‘We are devastated’: ‘Lifeline’ service for children with autism in Oxfordshire set to be cut

Many people have voiced their opposition to the cuts
Oxfordshire County CouncilOxfordshire County Council
Oxfordshire County Council

Concerned parents say they are “devastated” at the removal of a “lifeline” service for children with autism in Oxfordshire.

Autism Family Support Oxfordshire (AFSO) alerted parents and carers to planned cuts to their youth groups and family support work in an email on Wednesday (March 20) this week.

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There will be no more funding for the organisation’s summer and Easter ‘short breaks’ activities from April 1 this year.

Oxfordshire County Council, which has been blamed for the cuts, insists the situation is not a result of reduction in council spending but re-allocation of money to where parents and carers had “overwhelmingly” requested it.

Helen Evans, a contributor for BBC Radio 4 and parent of an autistic child, said: “AFSO was a lifeline when my son was first diagnosed.

“Their family support service kept going, and without them I don’t know where my family would be today.”

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Nick Taylor, a parent of two children with an autism diagnosis, added: “I have experienced first hand the lack of specialist support and educational provision for children with SEN.

“During the last eight years AFSO has been the one ever-present, constant support service available to us as a family.

“Their Family Support work has sometimes been the only beacon in often dark months and years trying to navigate through the morass of uncoordinated agencies involved in our children’s education.”

The news comes in the aftermath of an inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in July where officers identified “widespread and systemic failings” in their September report for special educational needs (SEND) provision in Oxfordshire.

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Since then the county council has approved funding for a new SEND school in Didcot, increased number of spaces for children at a school in Blackbird Leys, and put together plans for a new SEND school in Faringdon, among other courses of action.

An Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said: “A re-commissioning process commenced last year for AFSO with involvement from parents, carers, current providers, other professionals, and social workers.

“Questionnaires, and a variety of events were used to ensure that any new contracts met the needs of children using the services.

“Parents and carers overwhelmingly told us that they wanted greater choice for their children.

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“They said they wanted the new offer to provide care for children rather than parenting support.

“The new offer reflects this, and there are now sessions available for a wider variety of need.

“Autism Family Support Oxford were successful in their bids for a number of activities.

“However as parenting support was not offered as a tender (because parents did not feel this was as important as direct care), they were unable to bid for this funding.”

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The council says AFSO were informed of, and understood, the decision prior to the tendering process.

Gita Lobo, CEO of Autism Family Support Oxfordshire said the decision is "disappointing and very short-sighted".

“Our families have come together to vocalise the devastating impact of losing our support.

“If we do not urgently secure funding then we will have to make our Family Practitioners redundant on April 12 and local families will not receive the support they need to care for their autistic child.

“To donate, fundraise or support us please email [email protected]