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Disabled school transport cuts prompt safety fears

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Parents of disabled children in south Wales have raised safety fears over potential cuts to specialist school transport.

It comes as Bridgend council considers cutting escort services for primary school children in a bid to save £13,000.

But parents and campaigners say removing one-to-one support would put vulnerable children “at risk”.

The council said it would only consider cutting routes with low-risk children.

While local authorities are responsible for providing home-to-school transport for disabled children, there is no statutory requirement to provide escorts for those needing one-on-one support.

BBC Wales has been contacted by parents from across south Wales who fear removing escorts across the area would put their children at risk of harm and could lead to crashes as there would be no second adult to stop a child hurting themselves or distracting the driver.

Some parents said they had already withdrawn their children from services over safety fears and had quit work or reduced their hours in order to take their children to school.

One mother withdrew her autistic son from a bus service after finding out the driver had been sent to prison, while another parent said a driver had acted inappropriately with her daughter.

In its budget reduction proposals Bridgend council is considering removing escorts for primary school children in the county, which accompany fewer than eight children.

A report to the council said the move, to save £13,000 in 2019-20, would go out to public consultation, as drivers may feel unable to manage or guarantee children’s safety on their own.

Disability Wales fears that, if cuts are made in the face of increasing local authority budget pressures, children will be put at risk and families will be left struggling.

A spokeswoman said parents relied on the service, and drivers would not be able to provide the right level of support, as some children may hurt themselves, kick seats and distract those behind the wheel.

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Bridgend mother Sue – not her real name – cut her hours at work in order to take her son, nine, to school after becoming concerned about him being driven by a stranger.

She said she withdrew him from the service after finding out the driver had been sent to prison.

But while Sue has concerns about training and safeguarding, she believes having an escort to accompany children was essential.

“They are on the bus or in the taxi for hours every day, there is a lot of risk, the system is wide open for someone to misuse it,” said Sue.

‘Thoroughly investigated’

“These children are on their own with these people for their journey, these are the people they send to your door, you do not know anything about them…sometimes they don’t have any ID or car seats.”

Emma – also not her real name – whose 13-year-old son uses an escort service, joined other mothers in raising concerns, saying it “isn’t just important – it’s absolutely essential”.

A Bridgend council spokesman said the council gave standard guidance to escorts but training was the responsibility of the firm contracted to take the children to school.

He said there were no definite plans to remove escorts and said it was an important provision which provides valuable support.

He added: “Any allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behaviour by escorts are thoroughly investigated and acted on appropriately.

“Escorts are employed by our contracted transport providers and are all subject to DBS checks. We take action when any notifiable offences aren’t disclosed, or if a disclosed offence warrants the removal of an escort from the service.”

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