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Portage and Inclusion education service

Portage and Inclusion is an education service for children from birth to 3 years with additional needs, run by education, youth and childcare together with NHS Barking and Dagenham. Services for young deaf children are also based with Portage and Inclusion. The emphasis of the service is on support during the early years of your child’s life. We will work with you in your home to help your child in all areas of learning and development.

Portage is named after a town in the United States where this type of early education programme was first introduced. The programme was introduced in Britain in the 1970s and set up in Barking and Dagenham in 1978.

Our Portage service is a member of the National Portage Association.

How Portage works

Your Portage home visitor will work closely with you to find out what your child can already do. Then you will decide together on what to teach your child. Each home visit will last about an hour.

You and your Portage home visitor will discuss a range of activities that will help your child learn new skills while they play and have fun. We will advise you on how to support your child’s learning by practising the activities each day.

How your Portage home visitor will support you and your child

They will:

  • make sure you receive appropriate information and advice about local and national services
  • identify your needs and refer you to agencies that may be able to help
  • work with other services and professionals and set joint targets for your child
  • provide support and advice when you have difficulties
  • hold regular discussions with you to make sure you feel the services you receive are appropriate
  • attend meetings together with you to discuss your child’s progress
  • support your child when they move into an early years setting
  • write a report about your child’s progress, when Portage ends

Portage is provided in your home as it is easier for your child to learn in familiar and comfortable surroundings. Your child can learn through everyday routines and experiences.

The Portage service runs a number of groups for parents or carers and their children to support early learning. Our service is based on the principles of:

  • co-operation and partnership
  • teaching methods which help a child to learn by teaching a new skill in small, easily mastered steps

We also work very closely with any other services involved with you or your child, for example:

  • health visitors
  • children’s centres
  • physiotherapy
  • speech and language therapy
  • social care

Portage visits

During the first few visits, you and your Portage home visitor will discuss what your child can already do, what they like to do and what you would like to teach your child.

During the session, we need you to observe and join in with the activities with your child and your home visitor. This will reassure your child and makes the session more enjoyable.

Each home visit will last for approximately one hour, and we:

  • will bring a range of toys and resources to interest your child and help their development
  • will observe your child’s play and development together with you
  • will focus on the things your child can do
  • will suggest ways that you can help your child learn, one step at a time
  • will celebrate your child’s achievements with you
  • will listen to any concerns that you might have about your child’s development
  • can refer you to other agencies that will help you and your child

Portage pathways

If your child is eligible to receive Portage home visits they will be allocated to one of three pathways:

  • Core Portage
  • Portage Plus
  • Portage Monitoring

Portage groups

Children who are receiving Core Portage, Portage Plus or Portage Monitoring are invited to attend Portage family groups. There are a range of different groups, some are drop-ins and others are by invitation.

Core Portage

Core Portage is a service for children who have significant delay in at least two areas of their development. This includes communication, physical development and play skills. Referrals to core Portage are usually made on a common assessment framework or through a social care assessment. Specialist agencies can use the specialist referral form.

The purpose of Core Portage is to provide home visits where the child’s skills can be developed. The Portage practitioner works together with the child’s parents/carers to enhance the child’s skills and development, through play and fun!

All Portage and Inclusion practitioners have completed the accredited National Portage Association Portage workshop and are trained in a wide range of approaches and strategies, including infant massage, Makaton sign language, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), the use of TacPac and resonance boards.

Children who are eligible for Core Portage will receive:

  • regular home visits (1 or 2 visits per month)
  • home visits that last approximately one hour
  • during home visits there will be time for the child to play and learn as well as time to support and advise parents/carers

Criteria for referral to Core Portage:

  • the child is aged from birth to 3 years
  • the child has a diagnosed syndrome or condition that is likely to lead to a delay in their learning in two areas or more, such as their understanding, self-help or physical skills
  • the child is not attending an early years setting
  • the child’s parent/primary carer must agree to the referral and be available for visits with the allocated Portage practitioner on a regular basis

Portage Plus

Portage Plus is for children who meet the criteria for Core Portage and have significant delays with social, communication and play skills. Some of these children may be undergoing assessment for a possible diagnosis of autism.

Who can receive Core Portage

Your child must:

  • live in Barking and Dagenham
  • be under 3 years old
  • not be attending nursery
  • have a significant developmental delay in two or more areas of development


  • if your child does not have a developmental delay now, your child has a condition that could cause delay in the future


  • you must want to be involved with the Portage service and be available for visits

Criteria for Portage Plus:

  • the child is aged from birth to 3 years
  • the child has significant delays with social, communication and play skills (some of these children may be undergoing assessment for a possible diagnosis of autism)
  • the child is not attending an early years setting full time
  • the child’s parent/primary carer must agree to the referral and be available for visits with the allocated Portage practitioner throughout the 4 month programme

If your child is eligible for Portage Plus you will be offered the good beginnings programme. This is a 4 month home visiting programme which includes at least 10 home visits. The programme covers a wide range of subjects including communication, play and behaviour. Each visit will be tailored to suit the needs of your individual child and family.

There is also a Portage Plus group. Parents are welcome to bring their children to this drop in group where parents can meet each other and children can play.

Additional multi-agency services

In addition to good beginnings, families on this programme have the option to access additional multi-agency services.


A weekly structured play session, supporting parents to develop their child’s play, learning and communication in a group setting.


A 12 week course, teaching parents and children to use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). Parents meet fortnightly in a group to learn the six phases of PECS. Every other week the parents are visited at home by two co-workers to teach their child how to use PECS.

Way2Say and Way2Play are services provided by Portage and Inclusion practitioners together with practitioners from the child development centre health service and the Sycamore Trust.

Portage Monitoring

Portage Monitoring is for very premature babies or children with a diagnosed syndrome or condition that is likely to lead to a delay in their learning.

If your child is allocated Portage Monitoring, you will receive:

  • regular home visits to monitor your child’s development (usually every 4 to 6 weeks)
  • home visits that last approximately one hour to provide early intervention to increase the child’s learning
  • time during home visits for your child to play and learn
  • time to support and advise you and discuss any concerns you may have
  • referrals to other agencies as needed

All Portage home visitors are trained in infant massage and can show you how to use this with your premature baby.

Referral to Portage

Health visitors and early intervention workers

We will accept a copy of your completed single point of access form (once the original has been sent to the specialist children’s health service), or add Rosie Herbert to the eCAF

Specialists (paediatricians/therapists/neonatal)

Use either:

  • the Portage specialist referral form


  • send a copy of the single point of access form
  • attach a copy of your report/hospital discharge notes

Self referrals by parents

Contact us using the contact details at the bottom of this page.

Helping your child to learn

Portage home visits focus on your child’s learning and development.

You can help by:

  • letting us know as soon as possible if you need to cancel your visit. We will reschedule the visit if we can
  • letting us know if your child, or anyone in the house, is unwell. We do not want to pass on any germs to the other children we visit
  • turning off the TV. We want your child to learn to listen and concentrate on their play, without distractions
  • joining in the play and learning with us and your child. We want you to know how to continue to use the activities we will leave with you
  • turning off your mobile phone and don’t take calls during our visit. We will be focusing on you and your child

When Portage visits will stop

If you move out of Barking and Dagenham

When you move we will write a transition report about your child’s progress and we will support you to ensure that your child is referred to relevant services near your new home.

If your child no longer has needs in two or more areas of learning and development

If your child makes good progress with Portage we will discuss this with you and agree a time for Portage visits to stop. We will ensure that your child is referred to other agencies to enable continued support for any ongoing need, for example physiotherapy or speech and language therapy.

If your child is attending pre-school/nursery full time

We can visit the nursery and share ideas and model strategies to support your child’s learning. We can give the pre-school/nursery a progress report. We will agree a date for Portage visits to stop.

Once your child starts attending pre-school or nursery

When your child starts nursery we can visit the nursery and begin a supported transition. During this time the Portage home visitor will offer transition support, alternating visits between the nursery and your home. We can share ideas and model strategies to support your child’s learning in the nursery. We will agree a date for Portage visits to stop. This will be after a maximum of 6 months.

When your child is 3 years old

If your child is 3 already or almost 3 years old your Portage home visitor will agree a time for visits to stop. If your child is going to start school nursery there will be a transition meeting and we can give the school a progress report. We will agree a date for Portage visits to stop.

If you are not available for Portage home visits

One of the key principles of Portage is to work together with parents and carers on a regular basis to support the child’s learning. If you don't make this commitment, Portage visits will stop.

Starting nursery

Support available for your child

When Portage home visits stop your child may be attending an independent pre-school, day nursery, children’s centre day nursery or school nursery. All of these settings are registered with Ofsted and use the early years foundation stage framework.

All early years settings follow the code of practice for special educational needs and disabilities. Every early years setting has a named SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator).

Inclusion outreach

All pre-schools, day nurseries, children’s centre day nurseries and childminders can receive inclusion advice from the Inclusion Support Network, either from a member of the Portage and Inclusion Team or the Pre-School Learning Alliance (PSLA).

Early years practitioners will receive advice on specialist strategies to support and develop children’s learning. This training can be provided on an individual or whole team basis. Early years settings are also able to borrow specialist resources on a short or long term basis from the Portage and Inclusion resource library.

The Portage transition report

Why we write a report

The report will:

  • summarise our work with your child
  • clearly identify your child’s strengths and achievements
  • note the areas where your child still needs help to develop their learning
  • support your child’s transition to their new setting

Who will have a copy of the report:

  • you
  • your child’s next setting
  • other professionals that are involved with your child (with your permission)

Portage publications

The Portage and Early Support service has produced a number of publications designed to help parents and carers.

Developing early communication skills (PDF, 1.78 MB)

Developing early listening skills (PDF, 1.31 MB)

Developing eating and drinking skills (PDF, 1.44 MB)

Favourite nursery rhymes (PDF, 2.80 MB)

Messy play (PDF, 2.07 MB)

Setting up a bedtime routine (PDF, 1.52 MB)

Starting a toilet training programme (PDF, 1.63 MB)

Portage and Inclusion

Alibon Children's Centre, 175 Sterry Road, Dagenham RM10 8PT

020 8724 8550