Portage is a home-visiting educational service for pre-school children with additional support needs and their families. We were put in touch with our local Portage service within a few weeks of our son’s birth – and we will be forever grateful for that!


The first such scheme was developed in Portage, Wisconsin, USA in the early 1970′s to meet the needs of the young children living in rural communities. Since its introduction in the UK, the success of the approach has lead to an increasing number of services being developed nationally. There are now 140 services registered with the National Portage Association in Britain.

The aim of Portage is to support the development of young children’s play, communication and relationships and to encourage full participation in day to day life within the family and beyond the home. Portage services are committed to securing inclusion in the wider community for all children and families in their own right. Support offered through Portage is based on the principle that parents are the key figures in the care and development of their child and Portage aims to help parents to be confident in this role whatever their child’s needs may be.

In order to do this the Portage Home Visitor works alongside parents offering practical help and ideas to:

  • make learning fun for all the family;
  • encourage a child’s interests;
  • and address problematic situations.

The Portage Team

Portage Home Visitors have a wide experience of working with families and children. They may be teachers, speech and occupational therapists, nursery nurses, health visitors, community nurses, social workers, parents or volunteers with relevant experience. Everyone involved in providing the service has received additional training from the National Portage Association. A multi-disciplinary team of home visitors is usually supported by a Supervisor or Co-ordinator, an administrator, and management team with members from relevant professions. Parents are represented at all levels of the team, the children and the families being at the centre of each service.

How Portage Works

Families are visited regularly, at home by their trained Portage Home Visitor. Parents share with the home visitor their understanding of their child’s individual gifts, abilities and support needs. Profiles or developmental checklists may help with this process of identifying strengths and goals for future learning when Portage visits begin. The emphasis is on the positive, finding out and building on what a child can do. Parents take the lead in planning their goals ensuring that Portage support is relevant to the needs of their child and family. Goals may focus on developing movement, learning, play, communication and participation in the activities of everyday living.

Usually the aim of each home visit is to decide on an activity which the family can practise and enjoy together. The activities are based on play grounded in everyday situations to provide fun and success for the child. Each activity may represent a small step towards one of the family’s planned goals and families using Portage usually choose to practise activities between weekly visits. Parents may use charts or diaries as a reminder of the activity and a record of what happens between visits. In this way a family can build a shared record of their child’s involvement with Portage.

Portage offers a framework of support which respects each family and their own individual priorities. It is a model that adapts flexibly to individual child and family needs.

Fundamental to Portage support are the principles that:

  • All children and parents should be valued for their unique qualities.
  • Parents play the key role in supporting their young child’s development.
  • Services for families are most useful when they support everyday living and are delivered in a child’s natural environment.
  • Building on abilities and strengths, rather than focusing on difficulties best supports children’s learning and enjoyment.

The Portage Model

Any Portage service registered with the National Portage Association should be offering support based on the following characteristics:

  • Regular home visiting
  • Assisting the development of play, communication, relationships and learning for young children within the family.
  • Assisting the child and family’s participation and inclusion in the community in their own right.
  • Working together with parents within the family with them taking the leading role in the partnership that is established.
  • Helping parents identify what is important to them and their child and plan goals for learning and participation.
  • Keeping a shared record of the child’s progress and other issues raised by the family.
  • Responding flexibly to the needs of the child and family when providing support.
  • Portage home visitors accessing support through regular team meetings, on behalf of the family they work with.

Portage by UK Region

The National Portage Association operates at national and regional level throughout the UK supporting individual members and registered services.

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