The Princess of Wales visited Kent today.
Catherine joined a family session at the specialist Orchards Centre, in Milton Regis, Sittingbourne.
Her Royal Highness came to the county to highlight the importance of supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families.
She joined a sensory development class with a group of children with a range of needs and conditions, including social communication difficulties, autism, complex needs and Down’s Syndrome.
It was run by the Kent Portage Team, which offers a service for children with special educational needs and disabilities from birth up to preschool age. They also work with families to aid the development of their children.
Princess Kate met with parents and their children, as well as some of the front-line practitioners delivering the service to understand more about portage and how it supports families on a day-to-day basis.
The service, which is available across England and Wales, provides home learning sessions in the community where specially trained portage practitioners work with families and their children to learn together, play together and participate in their community.
Princess Kate arrived at the centre, in Attlee Way, just before 11.30am today and was met by the chairman of the National Portage Association Janet Rickman and Kent’s portage lead Tracy Harvey.
She was pictured laughing, playing and talking with families and children throughout the morning.
One of the youngsters even took a strong liking to one of Princess Kate's bodyguards and spent the session targeting him with a bubble gun.
Princess Kate left the centre just before 12.30pm and on her exit waved goodbye to those waiting outside.
Speaking to KentOnline following the visit, dad-of-four Steve Ikebuwa, who lives near Gravesend town centre, said: “It was quite pleasant. I saw someone who really wanted to know because she was concerned.
“We were talking about Nathan’s siblings and how they are and how we are managing. That was quite nice to see.”
Steve’s youngest child Nathan, who was born with severe brain damage, is supported by the Kent Portage Team.
Speaking about the service, he added: “It has really been helpful. We found out about the team through referrals, someone referred us to them so we gave it a try. We had never had this experience before so we did not really know what to do.
“It is lovely. What they do is a vocation, it is not just a job. You can see the support there. It has been really helpful.”
Kent’s portage lead Tracy Harvey had a one-on-one session with Princess Kate while she visited the centre.
She told KentOnline: “We were really, really excited today because the Princess of Wales came to visit one of our portage sessions.
“It was amazing. She was so easy to speak to and very interested in the work that we are doing.
“She was very focused on the families and really played with the children. It was just a fantastic session.
“She wanted to know how the families access portage, how they received the service, and what they thought of it, but she was also very interested in the personal stories that the families had around having a child with additional needs.
“It was just a fantastic experience today and was great for portage locally and nationally.”
As highlighted in the Shaping Us campaign, which the Princess launched in January, our relationships, experiences, and surroundings in our earliest years lay the foundations that shape the rest of our lives.
Providing strong support for children, parents and carers during these years is essential and can have a life-changing impact – this is never truer than for those families caring for children with special educational needs.
The National Portage Association, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, works with over 100 portage services, providing a quality framework and training for portage practitioners and parents.