Support for children aged 0-25 with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Portage home visiting service - BCP Council

PortagePortageHome visiting educational service for pre-school children with SEN and disabilities and their families is a specialist home-visiting education service targeted primarily at children under the age of three years with significant and complex SEND needs who are accessing less than ten hours per week in an early years setting. Please contact the service for more information if you are concerned about a child with SEND who is aged three years and not attending an early years setting.

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How Portage works

Portage is a partnership between parents and professionals where parents take the lead role. The service aims to provide ideas for practical learning activities and uses a coaching model to increase parents’ confidence in using the Portage small steps to learning approach to support their child’s play, communication and learning. It also aims to support inclusion in the family and the wider community.

Portage recognises that parents know their child best and every stage of the Portage ‘Assess, Plan, Do, Review’ cycle is completed in partnership with parents. The four steps are:


  • by observing how the child plays, learns, and communicates in their natural home environment. Learning through play is a key element of the Portage model
  • identifying the child’s current strengths and considering the things they are finding more difficult. These skills are recorded on either a Derbyshire EYFS Small Steps Profile or Early Support Developmental Journal for Multiple Needs
  • creating a One Page Profile which captures important information about the child on one page


  • writing an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) which will include the outcomes the parent/s want their child to achieve over an agreed period of time
  • the ILP should also consider information and advice from other professionals to make sure desired outcomes are consistent across services
  • breaking outcomes and activities down into small, achievable steps. Each small step leads to learning a new skill or the consolidation of a developing skill
  • designing teaching activities for parents and their child to do together on a daily basis in between Portage visits/sessions


  • getting down on the floor and modelling fun play and learning activities directly with the child and family
  • practising a specific teaching activity linked to parents’ priorities to check what approach works well for the child and how parents can best support their child’s learning
  • parent/s are required to practise the activity with the child on a daily basis in between Portage sessions. It is this repetition and practice that will support the child to make the most progress


  • parent/s and Portage officer practise the weekly teaching activity with the child during the next visit. Progress is monitored and next steps suggested
  • the ILP is updated at the end of every visit and formally reviewed at the end of a period of Portage support
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A child may be eligible for Portage support if they:

  • live in Bournemouth, Christchurch, or Poole
  • have significant delays in three or more areas of development equal to 50% of their chronological age *
  • are under 3 years old and if attending an early years setting, this must be for less than 10 hours per week **
  • exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis for 3-year-olds who have significant SEND needs who are not able to access an early years setting

For all referrals at least one parent/carer must:

  • give consent for the referral to be made
  • be available and agree to engage in a block of Portage sessions
  • have the time and motivation to practice play, communication and learning activities on a daily basis at home

* Supporting reports / assessments / information must be provided with every referral. The most recent Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3) summary sheets (if available) must show a minimum of three areas of development in the black shaded area. For more information about the ASQ-3 please talk to a member of the health visiting service.

** All early years settings should implement Quality First teaching and follow the Early Years Graduated Response for children with SEND.  This also uses an ‘Assess, Plan, Do, Review’ cycle to ensure each child’s needs are assessed, planned for and met.  Good practice is for settings to work in partnership with parents/carers, so they are fully involved in this process.  

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Types of Portage support available for families living in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole

Portage is delivered in a variety of ways. The current offer of support is made up of three different interventions and families may be offered one, two or a combination of these:

Portage Stay and Play group

The Portage Stay and Play group is offered to families when they are first referred to the Portage service. Families can continue to book a place on any one of the sessions that are delivered every month until they are assigned a named Portage officer for home visits and have started at an early years setting.

This small, friendly group introduces the child and family to the Portage small steps to learning approach, including key play, communication and learning strategies. Portage officers model fun learning activities and parents can gain advice and ideas for next steps to work on at home. The group is also a small positive step towards transition to an early years setting.

Public Health Staff Nurses often attend the groups and can offer health related advice, support and signposting. Occasionally we invite guests to talk about their roles in supporting children or providing information and advice via the Local Offer. This group also provides opportunities for parents to develop friendships and gain support from other parents. For details on 2024 session times.

Portage home visiting

Portage home visiting consists of a block of 8 home visits/ sessions which need to be completed within an agreed time frame. Every block of support includes an initial assessment visit to the child and family to ensure the child meets criteria for Portage and to make sure that Portage is the right service at the right time.

Depending on the individual needs of the child and family circumstances, visits may be agreed on a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly visiting pattern. Portage visits are usually to the family home but sometimes may be a joint visit/appointment with another professional in a health clinic or Family Hub.

The visits will follow the Assess, Plan, Do, Review cycle with a formal review during visit 8.

Decisions about further Portage support is made by the senior Portage officer or Portage service lead on a case-by-case basis during case supervision and may be dependent on capacity within the service.

Portage virtual support

The Portage officer may book a telephone or video appointment.  The purpose of this may be to gain information prior to home visiting starting, to update EYFS assessments/profiles, in place of a cancelled face to face visit, or as a ‘touch base’ if Portage home visiting has ended but support has been agreed to help facilitate transition to an early years setting.

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Ending Portage home visits

Portage support will stop when:

  • parents have become more confident in using the small steps approach and strategies modelled
  • the child starts accessing 10 hours or more in an early years setting
  • the child has made significant progress and no longer meets service criteria
  • the agreed number of visits or time frame has been completed (whichever comes first)
  • parents do not respond to calls/messages/texts from the Portage service to book/re-book visits within the timeframe stated in the message
  • parents are not able to practise the agreed Portage activity on a regular basis
  • visits are frequently cancelled/re-scheduled by parents at short notice.
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How is the service evaluated

Families can ask questions and/or provide feedback via:

  • regular home visits with the named Portage officer
  • comments written on the child’s ILP
  • an email to the senior Portage officer or Portage service lead via
  • an end of service parent satisfaction survey which is sent to parents via email. Parents can also contact the service manager directly by phone if preferred.
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Moving from Portage home learning to an early years setting

Once you have chosen an early years setting the Portage officer will contact the setting’s Special Educational Coordinator (SENCO) and arrange a transition meeting attended by:

  • you
  • the SENCO
  • the Portage Officer
  • other relevant professionals working with your child

The purpose of the meeting is to make sure that everything is in place so that your child makes a successful and happy transition.

With your permission, learning and development information will be shared, and a Portage Transition Plan completed. This will include any actions which you, or any professionals need to complete before your child starts. For example: arrange a joint Portage home visit or applying for additional resource funding following the guidance in the Early Years Graduated Response

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How to apply for Portage advice and support

Parents and professionals can make a referral to the service via this link to the Early Years SEND request for involvement or by scanning the QR code below:

The referral must include sufficient information to show the child meets the Portage learning and development criteria. This information can be provided by emailing supporting documents to or typing additional information into the referral form.

Helen Jones, Portage Team Lead, will be happy to discuss the referral with you on 01202 261931 or 07824 521406 or via email:

QR Code for EY SEND request for involvementv2
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Priority and waiting lists

Due to consistently high demand the service has a wait list is in operation. Referrals are triaged and support will be prioritised for children who:

  • are either Looked After, Child Protection or Child in Need status
  • have the most complex SEND needs who are not accessing an early years setting, and support is needed to facilitate a successful transition to a setting
  • were referred earliest (i.e. on a ‘first come, first served’ basis)
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How to contact the Portage service

Click on the link for contact details for the service.  

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