Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Early Childhood Care Education
I have been conscious for some time of the difficulty experienced by some children with a disability in accessing and benefiting 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 €17.7m 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, and a Project Group, which 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.