1976 Introducing Portage
In the early 1970s, a new form of home learning was becoming increasingly popular in America. It was named Portage, after the town in Wisconsin where it was first developed.
Portage is a way of supporting parents in their homes, particularly those who find it difficult to reach more central services. For children with impairments [a helpful document on terminology is Choosing our Words], it proved particularly valuable, providing a more structured approach than anything available in the UK at the time.
Portage is a home-visiting educational service for pre-school children with specific support needs. Mulcahy was introduced to the system by Peter Wilcock and John Clements, two educational psychologists whose skilled support was crucial in the early years of KIDS. Together they deliberated how best the concept could be incorporated into a UK context. US-style Portage tended to be more prescribed, built around structured interventions where everyone followed set rules – even, on occasion, resorting to rigid, card-based instructions. This was a very different style to that chosen by KIDS, who have always worked to the ethos that parents should be actively involved in the development and provision of any type of disability care.
KIDS certainly recognised a demand for Portage as well as the need for a structured approach to providing it. However, it was crucial not to assume all the answers or speak in a clinical, inflexible language that parents could not relate to. The initial approach was simply to ask what parents needed to help their child. Home visits would then be arranged to create a tailor-made, collaborative programme which broke the learning process down into practical, achievable steps. Follow-up visits were built into the programme to see how suggested activities were panning out and that both children and parents were satisfied with the progress being made. This was a long-term commitment, with support available through to nursery school and beyond.
Today, a KIDS employee sits on the National Portage Association board. However, although we provide Portage to areas such as Camden, Southwark, Westminster, East Riding and Hull, there remain many local authorities where the service is not funded at all. Despite recent cutbacks, KIDS continues to challenge the current position that local authorities are not legally required to provide Portage to their residents.
The introduction of Portage typifies the inclusive and practical approach that resonates in everything we do. Fittingly, the style of Portage that KIDS introduced at its first family centre in Pond St, London still underpins the services we provide over 35 years later.
You can find out more about home learning and Portage here