Wales

Fears for future of Flintshire autism unit

Autism - child behind glass - posed by model
Image caption More than 580,000 people in the UK are affected by conditions known as autistic spectrum disorders

Parents have launched a campaign to safeguard a Flintshire centre for children with autism amid fears that it could close.

The unit, part of Westwood primary school at Buckley, provides specialist therapy for up to 10 children.

A council education official said there was "little demand" for the service and provision was "under review".

A parent, Simon Johnson of Wrexham, said he and others were "outraged" and wanted guarantees on its future.

Mr Johnson, whose daughter Mollie, seven, goes to the unit, said: "We are determined that it should stay open".

"My daughter, who is severely autistic, has been there three years and the service it provides is second to none.

"I have nothing but praise for the work they do."

Mr Johnson said he was trying to enlist the support of Boyzone star and Coronation Street actor Keith Duffy, whose 10-year-old daughter Mia was diagnosed with the condition three years ago.

"He's been very effective in his campaign to get centres like this set up in Ireland," he said. "So I'm trying to get hold of him to ask if he'll help us."

The Buckley unit teaches children using a specialist method called Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA).

Mr Johnson said until last week, when the school broke for summer holidays, the centre employed two psychologists, leading a team providing one-to-one therapy.

But he said both psychologists had now left following the end of a service agreement between Flintshire and Wrexham councils and Bangor University.

'Vital service'

"It's outrageous that we have lost such good staff," he said. "What we want to know now is what's going to be done by September to replace them."

Mr Johnson said that "if more people knew about this centre, and realised what a fantastic service it provides, the demand would be going through the roof".

Mr Johnson said he had already raised the issue with local AMs.

Wrexham council has confirmed that the agreement between the school and Bangor University to provide the ABA service has now ended.

Graham Edwards, head of education inclusion at Wrexham council, added: "There is little demand from parents of autistic children in Wrexham for an ABA-type approach and from September 2010 we shall only have one pupil at the school.

"The two members of staff were employees of the university and their contracts have ended with the end of the service level agreement."

A Flintshire council spokesman added: "We can confirm that the provision at the autism centre at Buckley Westwood is under review.

"This is part of an overall review of service level agreements within resource centres across the authority. The centre will continue to operate while the review is undertaken."

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