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Cuts to hit Norfolk charity

PUBLISHED: 15:00 17 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:13 02 July 2010

Chris Bishop

Two hundred parents with autistic youngsters will lose dedicated support from a charity which specialises in caring for them, as the cuts facing public services in Norfolk begin to bite.

Two hundred parents with autistic youngsters will lose dedicated support from a charity which specialises in caring for them, as the cuts facing public services in Norfolk begin to bite.

Fourteen jobs will also be lost at Norwich-based Asperger East Anglia (AEA), in a shake-up which, it is claimed, will signal the end of specialist services for children with Asperger syndrome.

Norfolk County Council has cut funding to groups caring for some of the county's most vulnerable youngsters from £2.4m to £1m as part of a budget package aimed at closing a possible £115m black hole in the next three years.

Of 65 applications for funding as part of a contract retendering, just seven have been successful, three of them national charities.

Meanwhile County Hall detailed plans on how to shake up day centre services for 655 people with learning difficulties are likely to be finalised in the summer.

The council is planning a £600,000 cut in the service, which could see a third of the centres sold off and a shift towards more care in the community. (for the full story see page 7)

The council insists that the changes were part of an ongoing modernisation of services while also delivering better value for money.

But critics fear that the changes are effectively damaging frontline services.

AEA lost £40,000 a year, which it used to provide children's activity groups on Saturdays, along with advice and emotional support for parents who are often in distress.

AEA executive direct Kerrie Smith said: “We are shocked and saddened to have lost this funding, and disappointed to hear that no specialist autism charities have been awarded funds by the Children's Trust to provide services in Norfolk.

“Autism and Asperger syndrome affect approximately 1,800 children and young people in Norfolk, who are often isolated and lonely and suffering from anxiety and depression.

“We are determined to try to continue these services and support these children and their parents and carers. We think it is very sad that, in the year the government has decided to focus on autism, these services for children should be cut.”

Norwich South MP Charles Clarke appealed for a re-think. “Asperger East Anglia provides an important and valued service,” he said.

“I hope that Norfolk County Council Children's Trust will reconsider their decision and give this charity the support it needs.”

The National Autistic Society said it was vital that children with autism had access to specialist support and services in their local area.

Clive Cossey, whose 13-year-old son Alex has Asperger syndrome, is also concerned about the plans, and says families in Norfolk are set to lose a “vital resource”.

The 40-year-old, who lives in Sprowston with his wife, son, and two daughters, said: “I cannot stress enough the amount of support AEA has given us. I think the closures will have an enormous impact on families.

“I am concerned because children with Asperger syndrome do not cope well with change - everything has to be organised in a certain way at a certain time, and that is very important to them, so when all of a sudden they will not be able to go to the centres it will cause them considerable stress.”

County Hall said another £86,000 in funding was being “held back” to help young carers. It said it wanted to ensure that services met government targets.

Shelagh Hutson, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for children's services, said: “The services we have been buying from the voluntary sector have developed in a piecemeal way over a number of years, which meant some areas had less provision than the area of need showed and some were not closely linked to the priorities set out in the Children and Young People's Plan.

“Instead of simply renewing the contracts that were coming to an end we ran an open tender process to make sure that the services we buy in deliver the best possible outcomes for children and young people in the most efficient and effective ways.

“We now buy £13m of services from the voluntary sector and continue to recognise the important role voluntary organisations play in developing opportunities and providing support to Norfolk's young people.

“We have reduced funding by just over £1m because of the huge pressures on our budget, brought about by the national economic climate and the increased cost of protecting the most vulnerable children.”

Will your child be affected by the cuts? Contact Sam Emanuel on 01603 772438 or email sam.emanuel@archant.co.uk

The successful bids are:

The Benjamin Foundation and Mancroft Advice Project (Positive Activities) - this project will target vulnerable children from a range of backgrounds, providing team building outdoor activities, residential experiences, youth drop-in sessions and volunteering opportunities, life-building skills such as cooking, budgeting and first-aid. There are proposed centres in North Walsham, Thetford, Great Yarmouth, Norwich city centre and King's Lynn.

Crossroads Care (Positive Activities) - this will deliver two community projects in Thetford and Downham Market to provide support, advice and positive activities to seven to 19-year-olds.

Leeway Women's Aid (Positive Activities) - Leeway will deliver one to one and group support to children affected by domestic violence.

Action for Children (Parenting) - Action for Children plan to deliver one to one parenting support and parenting programmes, specifically in the south and west of the county, potentially reaching more than 600 children and their families each year.

Ormiston Parenting Support (Parenting) - Ormiston will deliver a range of support and advice to parents around housing and finance, as well as parenting programmes and domestic violence support. It will use its specialist knowledge to support Gypsies and Travellers, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Groups, migrant families and families affected by imprisonment.

Family Matters (Parenting) - Family Matters specialises in supporting parents whose children have special educational needs, exhibit offending or anti-social behaviour, have mental health issues or live in difficult home environments. Their work will include one on one support for male carers, parent drop-ins, parenting courses and parenting groups.

Family Action (Parenting) - this project aims to reach at least 160 children per year, developing parenting courses, workshops and programmes across the county. The project aims to intervene early in families to prevent problems from escalating.

County Hall said the amount awarded to each organisation could not be revealed as contracts were still under negotiation.

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