Specialist speech centre to close its doors

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A centre that provides support for children with impaired speech and language in Oxford is to close in June following the government's decision to withdraw funding.

The ACE centre in Oxford, which for 30 years has supported children and young people with augmentative and alternative communication needs (AAC), will close at the end of June.

The centre, along with other charities and specialist services across the country, had its government funding for AAC provision withdrawn in 2010.

The Government has yet to confirm how it intends to support the 26,000 children and adults in the UK who require ACC provision.

Since it opened in 1984, the ACE Centre has provided support for over 5,000 people, helping them to speak, write, access education and reach their full potential.

The centre also provided training and free information services for parents, carers and professionals within education and health services.

Bill Nimmo, chair of trustees of the ACE Centre, said, ‘Vital services like ours that provide so much support through high levels of expert knowledge and understanding of people’s needs cannot be allowed to close, and we ask the government to urgently review the sustainability of these essential  services.

‘The ACE Centre advisory trust staff and trustees are deeply saddened that the centre is scheduled to close at the end of June 2012.  Despite significant efforts to ensure the sustainability and future of our centre, we are unable to continue to operate in the current financial climate. The ACE Centre leaves a considerable legacy for children, young people and adults with complex communication needs, of which we are immensely proud.’

The Communication Trust, a coalition of nearly 50 voluntary organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication, has expressed deep concern over the closure of the ACE Centre.

Anita Kerwin-Nye, director of The Communication Trust, said, ‘It is very sad and deeply concerning to be losing such an expert skill-set on delivering specialist AAC services. The vital work of the ACE Centre picked up the needs of what is typically a ‘low incidence’ but ‘high need’ group of children and young people. There are therefore very limited pockets of this expertise across the country.

‘The real risk is that unless the Government adopts quickly the model put forwards by Jean Gross, other expert provision will be lost. The Communication Trust and other experts in the field back this model and are calling for support to be made available to develop the provider market further.

‘A number of children rely on AAC to communicate with their family, learn at school and to make friends. It is wrong that families are being told there is no provision available or that they will have to pay for this fundamental service.’

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