Princess Kate's visit helped to shine a spotlight on services that provide strong foundations for young people and their families, as Joe Coshan reports
The Princess of Wales has met with parents and their children at a service supporting young people with special educational needs.
The Princess visited The Orchards, a centre for children with special educational needs and their families in Sittingbourne, Kent, on Wednesday as part of her "Shaping Us" campaign, which looks to highlight the importance of supporting children and parents in all sorts of circumstances.
She joined practitioners from the Kent Portage Team as part of her mission to highlight the importance of providing early years support for children.
Speaking in a children's playroom, the princess played with three-year-old Beatrice in an enrichment play pit filled with shredded paper.
She told Beatrice "well done" after she was able to fit a large amount of shredded paper on a toy dog.
The mother of George, Charlotte and Louis was also keen to understand Portage, a home-visiting educational service for preschool children and their families.
Janet Rickman, the chair of the National Portage Association, said Kate asked about the impact of portage services on parents of children with special needs.
"You know being a parent is hard enough as it is if your child has got additional needs," she said.
"We work with any child that's got delays or difficulties in two or more areas of development."
Parents like Danielle Chapman say while Kent's council-funded portage service was a great foundation for her son Tommy, SEN provision in the county still needs more support
Charlotte Beer, a portage practitioner from Dover, Kent, used the service for support while raising her daughter who has autism. She said Kate "really cared about the children".
Ms Beer said: "She was quite interested in the fact that we noticed a regression within my daughter at quite an early age and how supported I felt as a parent.
"She expressed how important it is to make sure children with special needs are supported in their first five years of life.
"You can really tell that she really cared about the children, she came and sat with some of them on the floor, talking to their parents. You can really see she cares and she wants to make a change."
The royal visit comes just months after Kent County Council were ordered to improve its special educational needs services by the CQC or risk losing control of them.
A KCC spokesperson said: “We accept that SEND provision in schools can be variable across the county. However, there is good inclusive SEND practice in a growing number of Kent schools.
“KCC has a training and development programme team working with schools to address any such issues.”