Mum’s fury over county autism cuts

A MOTHER has challenged county council chiefs over their decision to disband a vital support service for autistic children, including her son, which she says was never raised with parents.

The Communications Support Service (CSS) currently provides a team of specialist teachers who assist children and young people in mainstream schools with spoken language and communication needs, either on a one-to-one basis or in a language class with a teacher and an assistant.

But Alnwick mum Carys Thomas says she was stunned to hear that it will be dismantled on April 1, as part of £10million worth of cuts to children’s services over the coming financial year.

Mrs Thomas, from Hope Terrace, says there has been no consultation with parents of those children affected, which prompted her to raise the issue at the council’s Area Committee North.

She said: “I asked members if they were aware of the dismantling of the specialist autism Communication Support Service which will have serious impact on many children with autism who receive their support in mainstream schools in the north area and Alnwick. They didn’t know.

“I also asked if members were aware that the decision to close this as a stand-alone service was taken before the ongoing Special Educational Needs (SEN) review and if they knew that parents of children who use the CSS had not ever been consulted.

“No, they didn’t know and were disturbed at lack of consultation.

“I also informed them that parents were not being consulted on the SEN review and that in my own efforts to extract information from Northumberland County Council officers, I had been told that officers didn’t have time to speak to parents individually.

“Members were very shocked that officers would say they didn’t have time.”

Chairman of the Area Committee North, Pat Scott, said Mrs Thomas’s inquiries would be followed up and reported back.

Coun Richard Dodd offered, as chairman of the Family and Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee, to add this issue to the committee’s work programme and for it to be reviewed in six months’ time.