HIGHLY trained staff who support children with hearing, language and visual difficulties in schools face losing their jobs after Newport council’s decision to pull out of a Gwent-wide service.

Last week, the South Wales Argus revealed that Newport City Council had decided to stop paying into the Gwent-wide Sensory and Communication Support Service (SenCom), which all five local authorities currently contribute toeard.

By April 1, 2019, Newport council is aiming to have set up its own “tailored”, Newport-focussed service – in a move that they hope will save them money.

Currently, SenCom offers a range of support for children across the whole of Gwent with hearing, language and visual needs.

The spectrum of children who rely on the service ranges from those with temporary hearing difficulties to pupils with seriously complex needs – such as autism and blindness.

Newport’s new service will take on the 549 children from the city that are on SenCom’s books.

But it has now emerged that highly trained staff at SenCom will lose their jobs in the restructuring process that will follow Newport’s departure.

Head of SenCom, Roger Thurlbeck, told the South Wales Argus that Newport’s decision will mean staff cuts in his organisation after April, 2019.

He also revealed that none of the specialist staff within SenCom were consulted about Newport’s decision, which came as a complete shock when their six month notice was delivered on October 1.

“We’re in the process of looking at how we will restructure our service for the four remaining local authority areas,” explained Mr Thurlbeck.

“We will be downsizing our staff. We are in the process of working out how many we will lose.

“It’s something all our staff have been made aware of. It’s a difficult situation.”

Mr Thurlbeck admitted that the nature of the work, which often sees staff work across Gwent with the same children for years, means that the job losses will affect those children directly.

“I would have expected some consultation. We try to work in partnership. In that spirit, if they were thinking of leaving I would have liked to have been able to give an input if they wanted my opinion on it.

“I would have pointed out the advantages that are here [in SenCom].”

Parents of new-borns with hearing difficulties spoke to the South Wales Argus at a support session at the SenCom headquarters in Cwmbran.

They expressed concern about what the change could mean for their children.

Nicola Wainfur, 31, and her six-week-old son Rueben are new to the SenCom system.

Ms Wainfur and Rueben, who has mild to moderate hearing loss, will get support from SenCom staff at their Cwmbran centre until April next year.

But Ms Wainfur, of Coldra, Newport, added that she is worried about any changes to the service.

“It is a concern that I won’t be able to come here and use the centre,” she said.

“The services they offer here and the play groups are really worthwhile. It’s a good set up.

“The distance doesn’t make a difference to me. I just hope they [Newport] will be able to give the same level of service I’ve been getting.”

Cerys McAllen-Owen’s 15-week-old son Gruff has moderate hearing loss in both ears.

The 37-year-old mum from Blackwood started using the SenCom service when Gruff was just two-weeks-old after his hearing loss was picked up in a screening shortly after he was born.

“The service is absolutely amazing,” she said.

“It’s an invaluable resource, for parents as well as for the children. There’s a real sense of community. Most parents have no background in hearing impairment, so that support they get is so important.”

Ms McAllen-Owen added that she was “very disappointed” to get a letter explaining Newport’s decision to pull out of SenCom.

“It’s really short sighted, in my opinion,” she said.

“It looks like a financial decision, and I don’t think they truly appreciate the level of support that’s provided, and I don’t think they will be able to match it.

“There’s a real chance of a domino effect once Newport leaves. Maybe the other authorities will look in the same direction.”

Ros Hannam, a 36-year-old mum and teacher from Caldicot, explained that the speed and quality of the SenCom service after her daughter Lola’s severe hearing loss was picked up after birth helped her to cope.

“My eight-week-old daughter failed the hospital screening three times,” she explained.

“The first week was overwhelming. I was numb, because you expect your baby to be perfect. But within a week I had been visited by SenCom who came out to the house. Hearing aids were fitted, and an appointment booked with a paediatrician.

“They took care of it all. Today was our first appointment at the centre, so we’re just on the start of our journey.”

Ms Hannam received a letter explaining Newport’s decision to leave, and explained she was concerned it might have an impact of the service her daughter gets.

“Together is stronger, surely?” she said.

“Surely a greater number of experts working together means a greater level of care for everybody?”

Newport City Council have declined to respond to Mr Thurlbeck’s comments.

Chief Education Officer for Torfaen Council, Dermot McChrystal, previously told parents that he did not expect SenCom services to change for the four remaining authorities.