Parents' anger at proposed council cuts for ‘vulnerable children’ with special educational needs

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FURIOUS parents have hit out at plans to slash cash given to families with disabled and special needs children to enjoy leisure activities.

Families with children who have special education needs and disabilities (Send) currently get £300 on a prepaid card to spend on activities including swimming and soft play venues.

Helen Barter and her daughter, Mollie, 10, at their home in Stamshaw, Portsmouth.''Picture : Habibur Rahman

Helen Barter and her daughter, Mollie, 10, at their home in Stamshaw, Portsmouth.''Picture : Habibur Rahman

But now Portsmouth City Council wants to cut this by £50 – and exclude families who already access respite care for their children.

Mum Lisa Howard-Dagg, 46, whose son Flynn, nine, is autistic and unable to speak, said: ‘I’m really upset about this proposal and feel it’s a kick in the teeth to everyone looking after Send children.

‘This money makes a real difference.

‘I understand the council have a tight budget but cuts shouldn't be from the most vulnerable.’

Helen Barter, 43, runs Stand-up, a Send support group and has a 10-year-old daughter, Mollie, who is severely autistic.

She said: ‘I’m really concerned about these changes.

‘When I first started using the scheme three years ago the card was £600.

‘As a single parent and full-time carer I use this money for treats such as soft-play and swimming which helps improve Mollie’s quality of life.’

Helen sends Mollie to the Beechside Short Break Service in Havant Road for respite care.

But, under proposals, she would no longer be able to have the prepaid card.

She said: ‘What I don’t understand is why they have to do both — surely saving money on the card is enough.’

The council said it has been forced to consult on changes due to a huge increase in Send children.

The number of children on educational healthcare plans has increased from 1,032 to 1,513 since 2016.

The children’s service had a £7.7m overspend last year, but this is now down to £1m.

In a letter sent to families, city council head of inclusion Julie Katherine said: ‘Prepaid cards will only be available to those who don't have an allocated social worker or are not accessing specialist short break respite packages.’

Councillor Suzy Horton, cabinet member for education, said: ‘In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to make these cuts.

‘With the increase in numbers it’s very difficult to provide everyone with both services.

‘We’ve thought long and hard about this and are still consulting parents.

‘One proposal is that ineligible families can apply for a subsidised activity discount card.’