Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Early Childhood Care and Education
484. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when the report on the issue of over overage exemptions under the ECCE produced by the National Disability Authority will be published; the actions being considered arising from this report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15271/19]
In December 2017, I announced my decision to pause the proposed rule changes on overage exemptions in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) pre-school programme to allow for a consultation process where the voice of parents of children with disabilities could be heard in relation to the proposed change.
This consultation process, which was conducted by the National Disability Authority and supported jointly by my Department and the Department of Education and Skills, involved a number of steps to include:
I. Review of the relevant literature and policy;
II. Review of existing data on overage exemptions, including trends in applications and approvals;
III. Profile of children currently in receipt of overage exemptions;
IV. Review of existing data and trends in school starting age;
V. Identification of options for managing exemptions going forward (including the criteria and application, appraisal and appeals processes) and consider the impact of each option identified for: children and families; pre-schools and schools (including practitioners and teachers); the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (and its respective Agencies, policies and programmes); and the Department of Education and Skills (and its respective Agencies, policies and programmes)
VI. Development, testing and issuing of a series of questions for parents of children with disabilities and preparation of a report on the results;
VII. Identification of key stakeholders (including parents) for consultation;
VIII. Facilitation of an Open Policy Debate with these stakeholders in conjunction with DCYA and DES.
I am very grateful to the National Disability Authority (NDA) for its assistance in managing this process on behalf of both Departments. The NDA has compiled a report of the evidence, the findings of the survey, and findings of the Open Policy Debate. I am pleased to say that report was published last Friday March 29th
I am now convening a group to agree the next practical steps in as short a timeframe as possible. The work of the group will focus on how to support parents in planning for their children’s needs, improving the process of transition for children with additional needs from early learning and care settings to primary school and to ensure that parents are assured that the school will address the children’s needs. The group will also consider how best to meet the needs of children in very exceptional circumstances where additional flexibility in the two year ECCE programme may be required.
The current procedure for dealing with overage exemptions will remain in place for the 2019/20 pre-school year pending the outcome of this work.
485. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the anomaly by which a child with special needs who wishes to avail of a third year of preschool privately finds themselves left without the ability to secure SNA assistance in view of the fact they are paying privately; the options available to remedy such a situation in which a child that has not reached primary school age but has already availed of the two free ECCE preschool years with AIM supports can continue to avail of SNA supports while paying privately for preschool; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15272/19]
Officials from my Department have sought more information from the Deputy's office about the child in question in order to address the specific concern raised.
Since September 2018, the duration of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme is two full programme years. In order to be eligible for the ECCE programme in September, a child must have turned 2 years 8 months on or before 31st August and must be less than 5 years 7 months at the end of June of the pre-school year.
Parents of children with special needs may apply for an ECCE Overage Exemption on behalf of their child for the 2019/2020 pre-school year provided that the child has not availed of their full ECCE allocation of 2 years and that the child will not reach 6 years of age during the exemption year. Applications for ECCE Overage Exemptions must be submitted in writing to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) and must be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from a medical specialist (not a GP or public health nurse) stating that it is in the best interest of the child to avail of a further year in pre-school.
The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a model of support designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the ECCE programme. AIM support is currently only available to children registered on the ECCE programme (or other DCYA childcare programme where the child is also eligible for ECCE). AIM supports may be applied for in respect of a child participating on ECCE through an overage exemption.
AIM Level 7 provides additional assistance in the pre-school room where this is critical to ensuring a child’s participation in the ECCE programme. In line with emerging best practice to support the integration and independence of children with a disability, AIM does not fund Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). Rather, it provides financial support to the pre-school provider, which can be used either to reduce the adult to child ratio in the pre-school room or to buy in additional assistance to the pre-school room. Accordingly, AIM Level 7 assistance is a shared resource for the pre-school setting.
However, when a child has exhausted their entitlement to 2 full years of pre-school and is no longer registered on ECCE, AIM supports are not available to that child. The HSE may be in a position to provide support to a child in this situation. Where the HSE has provided support for a child attending their first and second year of pre-school and the parents wish to access support for a third year, the HSE will attempt to facilitate this request, subject to the availability of resources and other service demands.
Finally, supports are available for school-aged children through the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), an agency of the Department of Education and Skills, to support children in a primary school setting.