Written answers

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Early Childhood Care Education

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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299. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the provisions he will make for children with special needs given the extension of the free pre-school year; if additional funding will be provided for increased personal assistant hours for children with special needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2696/16]

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I have been conscious for some time of the difficulty experienced by some children with a disability in accessing and benefitting fully from the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme. With this in mind, I requested that an Inter-Departmental Group, led by this Department, be established with a brief to bring forward recommendations to address this issue.

The Group has concluded its work and its recommendations were fully accepted and funded by Government. I announced, as part of Budget 2016, the necessary funding to implement the new model with costs estimated to be €15m in 2016 and with full year cost estimated to be €33m from 2017 onwards. This Group has identified a practical, workable model for meeting the needs of children with a disability and the allocation of funding is clear evidence of the Government's commitment to supporting vulnerable children.

When established, the new model will focus on the developmental level of children with disabilities, their functional ability and their needs. It will not focus on diagnosis, recognising that many children may not have a formal diagnosis at the time of presenting to pre-school.

The model, when fully operational, will deliver seven levels of support to enable the full inclusion and meaningful participation of children with disabilities in the ECCE Programme. These supports, which move from universal to highly targeted supports based on the needs of the child, include: enhanced continuing professional development for early years practitioners; grants for equipment, appliances and minor alterations, increased capitation for children with very complex needs, as well as access to therapeutic intervention.

Two groups have been established to oversee and implement the new model; a Cross Sectoral Implementation Group will oversee and monitor implementation, while the second group, the Project Group, will implement the model for roll-out by September 2016. Further details in relation to this measure are expected to be available in June this year.

Until this new model is introduced, the ECCE programme continues to make special provision for children with a disability to access it. Measures include an exemption from the upper age limit for qualification where a child would benefit from starting primary school at a later age. The County Childcare Committees continue to provide information and support for parents, and on some occasions assist in accessing supports locally and providing training for early years providers.

There is no additional funding available to this Department to support the employment of special needs assistants in pre-school services. The HSE, on an ad hoc basis, does make some supports available and it is expected that these arrangements will continue until the new model has been established.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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300. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 358 of 24 November 2015, the assumptions used to cost the additional expenditure required for an increase in capitation to providers of the early childhood care and education scheme; how many weeks of free preschool it was assumed that each of the 127,000 children would undertake to arrive at the €20 million full-year cost in 2017; if this cost estimate assumes that each child will undertake 61 weeks of preschool, the current 38 week provision plus his estimated average of 23 additional weeks of preschool; and if not, the reason. [2717/16]

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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The extension to the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme which was announced in Budget 2016 will allow children to access the free pre-school programme from the time they are 3 years of age until they start primary school. The measure will come into effect from September 2016.

The extension to the programme will cost an additional €47m in 2016. The full year additional costs of the extended programme will be in the region of €114m. These estimated costs include the restoration of capitation fees to pre-2012 levels with effect from September 2016 (i.e. €64.50 standard capitation rate and €75 higher capitation rate per child per week).

My response to Parliamentary Question 358 of 24th November 2015 referred to an estimated additional cost of €20m in 2017 arising from the hypothetical increase of the standard and higher capitation rates to €67.50 and €82.50 per child per week respectively.

Currently, around 67,000 children participate in the ECCE programme. It is estimated that the Budget 2016 initiative will increase the number of children benefitting from the programme to over 127,000 in a given year. However, this increase will not happen immediately. It is estimated that the maximum enrolment of 127,000 will not occur until the April 2017 enrolment. The additional cost of increasing the standard capitation rate from €64.50 to €67.50 and the higher capitation rate from €75 to €82.50 was calculated on the basis of the additional numbers of children expected to be enrolled in the programme in January 2017 and in April 2017. It should be noted that the extension to the programme will provide children with additional pre-school weeks, but the maximum number of pre-school weeks in a particular year remains 38.

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