Minister Reilly has 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, an Inter-Departmental Group, led by this Department, was established with a brief to bring forward recommendations to address this issue.
The Group concluded its work and its recommendations were fully accepted and funded by Government. The Minister announced, as part of Budget 2016, the necessary funding to implement the new model. The work of this Group has identified a practical, workable model for meeting the needs of children with a disability. 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 are:-
- An Inclusive Culture: includes training dedicated Inclusion Co-ordinators in pre-schools, and a small capitation increase for particular childcare services to support fully inclusive practice;
- Information for Parents and Providers: includes development of a national website and information packs for parents and providers;
- A Qualified and Confident Workforce: resourcing formal and informal training for early years practitioners to support more inclusive provision;
- Expert Educational Advice & Support: enhancing the Better Start Early Years Specialist Service so that practitioners have prompt access to advice and support from experts in early years education for children with disabilities;
- Equipment, Appliances and Minor Alterations: capital grants to fund specialised equipment, appliances, assistive technology, or minor building alterations so that children with disabilities can participate in pre-school;
- Therapeutic Intervention: additional resources to enable access to HSE therapeutic services, where these are needed to allow a child enrol, and fully participate in, pre-school.
- Additional Assistance: where the supports available at levels 1-6 are not sufficient to meet a child’s needs, additional capitation can be made available to childcare providers to support the pre-school leader to ensure children’s full participation. This could include, for example, buying in additional support, or, in particular circumstances, reducing the staff to child ratio.
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 are expected to be available in June this year and it is expected that children will begin to benefit from these measures from September 2016.
Separately, the ECCE programme includes an exemption from the upper age limit for qualification where children, including children with a disability, would benefit from starting primary school at a later age. The City and County Childcare Committees continue to provide information and support for parents, on some occasions assisting to access 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 in this school year. As you are aware the HSE does, on an ad hoc basis, make some supports available and it is expected that these arrangements will continue until the new model has been established.