SIXTEEN highly trained special needs support staff are at risk of redundancy after Newport City Council's decision to withdraw from a Gwent-wide children's service.

The South Wales Argus revealed in November that Newport council were planning on pulling out of the Sensory and Communication Support Service (SenCom), which supports children with hearing, visual and communication needs across all five Gwent local authorities.

A "tailored" Newport service will be set up to give around 380 affected children in the city the support they need to cope with a wide range of disabilities.

This includes children in mainstream schools with relatively straightforward needs such as language support.

But Newport children who are autistic, blind, deaf and live with extreme disabilities and complicated learning needs also rely on SenCom services.

The council's draft budget, published yesterday, shows they will save £250,000 from the decision, and they said they will be able to provide "an equivalent service" to what's currently on offer from SenCom.

READ MORE: Newport City Council defend decision to leave SenCom

But the Argus has now learned the decision means 16 highly trained staff, who work with vulnerable children across Newport, Monmouthshire, Ebbw Vale, Caerphilly and Torfaen, are at risk of redundancy.

Dawn Battersby, whose nine-year-old son Brogan suffers from autism, blindness and epilepsy, said said she was "furious" at the news.

Ms Battersby, of Beechwood, Newport, previously told the Argus she was worried Brogan would start self-harming again if he was parted from his SenCom teacher, who has been with him since he was less than a year old.

"I'm furious. We've fought for so long for our children to have inclusion, which they get with SenCom support, and Newport Council have just taken that away," said Ms Battersby.

"These are extremely qualified staff, doing an amazing job not just in Newport, but across Gwent with some of the most vulnerable children in our society."


(Brogan Battersby, 9, of Beechwood in Newport, relies on Sencom support)

The Hietts, of Beattie Road in Ringland, are another Newport family worried about the implications of the change.

Two-year-old Demi-Rose Hiett is registered blind, and has been using the SenCom service since she was three-months-old.

Reacting to the £250,000 saving Newport council hope to make, her father Rob Hiett called it a "kick in the teeth".

"That £250,000 is nothing to the council, in the grand scheme of things" said the 29-year-old.

"There's a lot of children who use this service that are much worse off than Demi-Rose, and it's gong to be a huge amount of disruption and upset to them just to save that much money.

"I just don't think the council care. If they were saving millions, you would understand it a bit more. But that's just peanuts in the grand scheme of things."


(Demi-Rose, 2, pictured with her dad Rob)

Demi-Rose's mum, 31-year-old Hollie, explained the service was vital for parents as well as children.

"It's not just about the support for children," she said.

"When you go to SenCom sessions you meet other parents in the same position as you. You all support each other and get to know each other. They come from all over Gwent and we've made some real friends though this service.

"But suddenly, we've lost all that. And we haven't been given any choice or had any real explanation about why it's happening.

"And there's no real guarantee about what's going to replace it."

It's not just Newport parents and children who are worried about the uncertainty left in the wake of Newport council's decision.

Joanne Williams, 40, of Newtown, Ebbw Vale, explained that she's worried the change will have repercussions for the whole service across all five Gwent local authorities.

"I think it will affect all children who use the service," she told the Argus.

"I've said from the beginning that this will cause job losses in SenCom. How can they run the service to their normal standard if one of their biggest funding partners pull out?"

Her daughter, 12-year-old Cerys, is profoundly deaf, and gets support from SenCom in her school three times a week.


(Joanne Williams' 12-year-old daughter Cerys gets SenCom support in her school)

Cerys, who is a pupil at Brynmawr Foundation School, said: "I'm really worried, because if any of my SenCom teachers lost their job over this I'd be very upset.

"It would make me feel so frustrated because they help me so much.

"They go over stuff with me if I don't understand the work. They understand my condition and what I'm going through.

"They talk to me about my struggles and help me through.

"It's been the same person since I was seven-years-old."

Torfaen's Plaid Cymru AM, Lynne Neagle, has also criticised Newport council's decision on the floor of the Assembly.

A spokesman from Torfaen Council, who run the Gwent-wide service, declined to confirm the number of staff at risk, but said: "The SenCom service has opened discussions with staff on the future model and this consultation period finishes at the end of the month.

"Based on a reduced number of service users in a future four authority partnership it is expected the new model will require less staff."

A Newport City Council spokesman also declined to comment on staff numbers while the consultation process is ongoing.

In a statement released today, they said: "Newport City Council has given serious and appropriate consideration to the wellbeing of our pupils when proposing a new locally focussed specialist service to support those with hearing impairments, visual impairments and communication needs.

"Although we fully appreciate the general benefits of partnership working, in this case we are confident that we can provide a service for Newport children that is equivalent to that provided by SenCom in a more cost-effective manner.

READ MORE: Lynne Neagle AM speaks out against Newport council's SenCom decision

"The council is confident young people and their families will experience more joined up support from Newport City Council services as a whole including Newport schools.

"Council officers have held ongoing talks with specialists including the National Deaf Children’s Society, RNIB and consultants in the field of audiology about the implementation of a new service.

"We sent out letters to parents and carers on 1 October to inform them of the proposed changes and have ensured they have clear routes through which to raise any questions or concerns.

"These include a dedicated email and parent sessions and to date, very few queries from parents and carers have been received.

"The council’s priority is to ensure that pupils in Newport who accessed SenCom will still receive the support they need.

"Newport’s decision to withdraw from SenCom should not destabilise the regional provision as SenCom will still be appropriately sized, resourced and will remain a viable service."

*If you've been affected by this news, please email or call 01633 777243