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Frequently Asked Questions

This section contains Frequently Asked Questions on the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (section A), the Access and Inclusion Model (sections B, C and D) and exemptions to the age limit for the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (section E). You can click on the links below to access questions and answers in relation to each topic.

The Frequently Asked Questions will be a ‘living’ resource which will be continually expanded and updated to take account of issues raised by parents, providers or other stakeholders.

Section A: Early Childhood Care and Education Programme
Section B: Access and Inclusion Model – General
Section C: Access and Inclusion Model – Universal Supports (levels 1 – 3)
Section D: Access and Inclusion Model – Targeted Supports (levels 4 – 7)
Section E: Exemptions to ECCE Age Limit

Section A: Early Childhood Care and Education Programme

1. What is the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme?
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme provides all children with access to free pre-school in the period before they start primary school. The benefits to children of quality early childhood care and education are well documented. A good quality pre-school also helps to get your child ready for primary school.

2. When can my child avail of the ECCE programme?
With effect from September 2016, children will be able to start in free pre-school in the September, January or April after they reach their third birthday and remain in free pre-school until they transfer to primary school (provided that they are not older than 5œ years at the end of the pre-school year, please see the eligibility calendar).

3. What will my child’s pre-school place cost me?
Once a pre-school is contracted to deliver the ECCE programme and the child qualifies on age grounds for the programme, then the State will cover the full cost of the place and there is no cost to the parent or guardian or carer.  Please see the DCYA Childcare Funding Programmes Information and Frequently Asked Questions for further details about the ECCE Programme.

4. How do I know which pre-schools are currently contracted to deliver the ECCE Programme?
A list of current ECCE service providers in your area is available from your local City or County Childcare Committee.

5. My child is attending a specialist pre-school for 2 days per week, and they recommend that my child attends a mainstream pre-school for the other 3 days per week; can the ECCE funding be split between the 2 pre-schools?
Yes, once both the specialist pre-school and the mainstream pre-school are both in contract to provide the ECCE programme, the specialist pre-school must provide a letter stating that it is in the best interests of the child to attend a mainstream pre-school for the remainder of the week. A letter must also be provided by the mainstream pre-school stating they are aware that the child is also attending a specialist pre-school. Both letters must be forwarded directly to Early Years Policies and Programmes in DCYA for approval.

Section B: Access and Inclusion Model – General

6. What does Access and Inclusion mean?
Access refers to the child’s ability to attend pre-school. Supporting access includes removing barriers and catering for the individual needs of the child. Inclusion refers to the child’s ability to participate as fully and actively as possible in the pre-school programme. Where necessary, appropriate supports will be provided under the Access and Inclusion Model to ensure full and meaningful participation.

7. What is the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM)?
The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access and fully participate in the ECCE programme. It is a child-centred model, involving seven levels of progressive support, moving from the universal to the targeted, based on the needs of the child and the pre-school.

Levels 1 – 3 of the model comprise a range of universal supports designed to promote and support an inclusive culture within pre-school settings by means of a variety of educational and capacity-building initiatives. International evidence suggests that these supports, when appropriately developed, are sufficient to support many children with disabilities.

However, where a service provider, in partnership with a parent, considers that some further additional support may be necessary to meet the needs of a particular child, they can apply for one or more targeted supports under levels 4 – 7 of the model. Additional targeted supports could take the form of expert early childhood care and educational advice and mentoring (level 4), specialised equipment, appliances and minor alterations (level 5), therapeutic supports (level 6) or additional capitation to fund extra assistance in the ECCE pre-school room (level 7).

8. When will the Access and Inclusion Model be available?
The model is being introduced in June 2016 to allow parents and service providers to plan ahead for enrolments in September 2016 and thereafter. Applications will commence as follows:

a) The application process for the new higher education programme in Leadership for Inclusion in the Early Years (LINC) under Level 1 will open on the week commencing 27th March 2017.
b) The application process for Level 4 (Early Years Specialist Service), Level 6 (Therapeutic Intervention) and Level 7 (Additional Capitation) will commence from 17th June 2016.
c) The application process for Level 5 (Specialised Equipment, Appliances or Minor Alterations) will commence from 24th June 2016.

It should be noted that, in the case of levels 4 – 7, applications will remain open throughout the year, although in the case of children with complex disabilities, pre-school providers and parents are encouraged to apply early.

Finally, it should be noted that the Access and Inclusion Model will take 3 – 5 years to fully embed as multi-annual educational and training programmes are rolled out and capacity is built up in the system. The HSE does, on an ad hoc basis, make some supports available and these arrangements will continue while the new model is being established.

9. I am a parent with a child starting pre-school in September. How can I get support for my child under AIM?
In order to access supports, you should firstly contact the pre-school which your child will attend. Together with your pre-school provider, you can make an application for support through the online Programmes Implementation Platform (PIP).  This is an online platform used by pre-schools to register children participating in the ECCE and other DCYA childcare programmes. Signed parental consent is required to complete the application process.

10. What if I don’t know what supports are needed to enable a child’s participation?
Where a service provider needs advice on what supports are required to enable a child’s participation in ECCE, they can contact the Level 4 Early Years Specialist Service in Pobal (contact onlinesupport@pobal.ie or (01) 511 7222 8a.m. to 6p.m. Monday to Friday). Completing the online Access and Inclusion profile will also help in highlighting and clarifying the need for any additional supports.

11. Does a child need a diagnosis to avail of supports under AIM? 
No, AIM is based on the needs of the child in the context of the pre-school setting. It does not require any diagnosis, recognising that many children do not have a diagnosis of a disability when starting pre-school.

12. Does AIM fund Special Needs Assistants (SNAs)?
No, AIM is not an SNA model. AIM is a holistic model designed to empower service providers to deliver inclusive settings and to support them by providing a suite of different services and supports tailored to the needs of each individual child in the context of their pre-school setting.

Where approval for Level 7 additional capitation has been agreed, and in circumstances where the maximum grant has been approved, it can be used in one of two ways. It can be used to reduce the adult to child ratio in the ECCE room, from 1 adult and 11 children down to 1 adult and 8 children, without any financial loss to the service.  Alternatively, it can be used to buy in additional assistance to the pre-school room.

Any additional assistance bought in to the ECCE room would not constitute part of the staff to child ratios for the purposes of the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016. This is to safeguard the use of this resource to meet the particular needs for which it was funded.

13. Does AIM only apply to the ECCE Programme?
AIM is designed to support children to access the ECCE programme. As such, the child must qualify on age grounds for the ECCE programme, either at the time of making an application for supports or at the planned date of enrolment in the ECCE programme. The service provider must be a registered pre-school setting with an active DCYA contract to deliver the ECCE programme. The only exception to this is where the child qualifies for the ECCE programme but is availing of early childhood care and education services funded under another DCYA childcare programme, i.e. the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) or Training and Education Childcare (TEC) programmes.

14. Who will monitor implementation of AIM and ensure it is effective?
Two cross-Government groups have been established to drive and oversee implementation of AIM; a Cross Sectoral Implementation Group and a Project Team. These groups will review implementation progress on an ongoing basis.

In the initial years of its implementation, AIM will be subject to regular review. A formal evaluation of the model will also be conducted after three years.

Section C: Access and Inclusion Model – Universal supports (levels 1 – 3)

Level 1: Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Charter and Guidelines

15. What is the purpose of the new Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Charter and Guidelines for Early Childhood Care and Education?
The updated Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Guidelines are intended to support and guide all those working in the early childhood care and education sector to explore, understand and develop inclusive practices for the benefit of all children and their families.

The purpose of the new Inclusion Charter is to demonstrate the sector’s commitment to inclusion. Service providers are asked to sign-up to the Charter by completing an inclusion policy for their setting. For reference purposes, an Inclusion Policy template is contained within the Guidelines.

16. Will there be training on the Charter and Guidelines?
Yes, a national training programme on the Charter and Guidelines will be rolled out by the City and County Childcare Committees over the coming months.  Details of this training will be posted on www.preschoolaccess.ie and on your local City or County Childcare Committee websites as soon as they are available.

Level 1: The LINC Higher Education Programme and Inclusion Co-ordinators

17. Who can apply for the new higher education programme, Leadership for Inclusion in Early Years (LINC), and how can I apply?
Service providers will be eligible to nominate a candidate for the programme where they hold a contract to deliver the ECCE Programme, funded by DCYA. Candidates nominated by settings must hold a Level 5 Major Award in a relevant area.

To apply for the programme, applicants should visit the website, www.lincprogramme.ie. The deadline for applications will be 4 weeks after the application form is made available.

18. How long is the LINC programme and where is it delivered?
The duration of the programme is one year. It will be delivered in 6 individual modules, incorporating two modules across each of the three semesters (Autumn, Spring and Summer semesters).

The programme will run on an annual basis, with approximately 900 places each year, for the next four academic years. (2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20).

The programme is based on a blended model of delivery (i.e. some online learning and some face-to-face sessions) and addresses the flexible learning requirements of the ECCE sector.

As the majority of the study or collaboration work will take place online, it is noted that each participant will only need to attend face-to-face settings for 7 days (Saturdays) each year. The timings of these face-to-face sessions will be from 10am to 4pm, to allow for travel time to and from each session.

The programme will be hosted across 9 centres each year. For the 2016 / 2017 academic year, the course venues will be as follows: Sligo; Galway; Meath/Westmeath; Limerick; Kilkenny; Cork; Maynooth; Dublin North; Dublin West/South. Venues for Year 3 will be announced in due course.

19. Does the LINC programme contain any recognition of prior learning?
Yes, there will be some Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Please see the relevant details on the course website, www.lincprogramme.ie.

20. Does this new Level 6 LINC Award replace the Level 6 Childcare Award, i.e. will it be sufficient to be a Leader in a standard capitation pre-school room?
No, this new higher education Level 6 award is a special purpose award and, on its own, is not a DCYA recognised qualification for the purposes of ECCE Room Leader.

21. What is the role of the Inclusion Co-ordinator?
The role of the Inclusion Co-ordinator is to provide leadership within the early years setting in relation to issues of diversity, equality and inclusion. This could involve:

  • Supporting the service to complete and regularly review its Inclusion Policy
  • Cascading learning throughout the staff in the service so as to foster an inclusive culture
  • Disseminating information on AIM, as well as on inclusion more generally, to parents
  • Assisting with applications for supports under AIM and liaising, where necessary, with the National Early Years Specialist Service (Access and Inclusion)
  • Working closely with parents and other professionals in cases where a child has a complex disability which requires more targeted supports or additional assistance.

22. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education. Do I have to complete the Level 6 LINC programme in order to take on the Inclusion Co-ordinator role?
Yes, anyone wishing to become an Inclusion Co-ordinator must complete this qualification.

23. How does a service provider qualify for the additional capitation of €2 per child per week?
In order to qualify for the additional capitation of €2 per child per week in respect of each child registered on the ECCE programme, the service provider must employ a graduate Inclusion Co-ordinator, i.e. someone who has graduated from the LINC programme and agreed to take on the role and responsibilities of the Inclusion Co-ordinator within that Early Childhood Care and Education setting.

24. Do you need to have a qualified Inclusion Co-ordinator in each pre-school room?
No, only one qualified Inclusion Co-ordinator is required per service. However, if you own a number of pre-school services, in order to qualify for the €2 capitation, you must have one Inclusion Co-ordinator in each service.

25. Is there a cap on the €2 capitation, i.e. is there a maximum number of children within the pre-school for whom this will be paid?
No, the capitation will be paid based on the number of children registered on the ECCE programme who are attending the service.

Level 2 – Information for Parents and Providers

26. What information resources are available for parents in relation to AIM?
In addition to this website, parents should contact their local City or County Childcare Committee for a list of local pre-schools, for information on AIM or for information on other local services and resources.

27. What information resources are available for service providers in relation to AIM?
In addition to this website, service providers should contact their local City or County Childcare Committee for information on AIM or for assistance in submitting applications for supports under AIM, particularly if they do not have internet access.

If a service provider needs specialist advice in relation to a particular case or application, they should contact the Early Years Specialist Service (Access and Inclusion) in Pobal. The service can be reached by email (onlinesupport@pobal.ie) or by phone (01 511 7222 from 8 a.m.to 6 p.m. Monday – Friday).

Level 3 – A Qualified and Confident Workforce

28. What courses will be provided to up skill staff in pre-school services in relation to disability and inclusion issues? Who will fund these course?
A broad multi-annual programme of formal and informal training for pre-school staff in relation to disability and inclusion will be funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and will be delivered by the City and County Childcare Committees, in collaboration with the HSE and other agencies. Details of the training programme will be available on this website (www.preschoolaccess.ie) and on your local City or County Childcare Committee website once available.

Section D: Access and Inclusion Model – Targeted supports (levels 4 – 7)

Level 4 – Expert Educational Advice & Support

29. Who are the Early Years Specialists (Access and Inclusion)?
Early Years Specialists are qualified (Honours Degree Graduates or post-Graduates) early childhood professionals with an in-depth knowledge and understanding of inclusive early childhood education and care. They have experience of working with children with disabilities, their parents and their families in pre-school settings. They have a thorough grounding in evidence-based best practice, mentoring and facilitation. They are Garda Vetted and receive ongoing professional support and supervision.

30. How do I apply for support from Early Years Specialists (Access and Inclusion)?
The service provider, together with the parent / guardian / carer, can apply for support by completing an Access and Inclusion Profile as part of an online application process on the PIP Portal at www.pobal.ie. Additional information, such as health reports, where applicable, can also be uploaded, although this is at the discretion of the parent.

31. Why is it necessary to complete an Access and Inclusion Profile?
The Access and Inclusion Profile helps to identify the child’s abilities and area(s) where additional support may be needed, for example, if the child uses mobility or communication aids or if s/he needs medical or personal care. This allows the service provider to identify what, if any, additional supports might be needed and to plan for the child’s participation in the ECCE setting. The profile also looks at the ability of the setting to cater for the needs of the particular child.

32. What information is asked for in the Access and Inclusion Profile?
The Access and Inclusion Profile asks for information on the child under 5 areas: Physical abilities, Communication abilities, Social skills, Behaviour and Health.

With regard to the pre-school, the profile seeks information on the accessibility of the environment, staff training and experience, policies and procedures.

33. Does the parent or guardian or carer need to give consent for an Access and Inclusion Profile to be completed?
Yes. Parental consent is required in order to submit a completed Access and Inclusion Profile. This is because personal information about the child will be captured in the profile and will be needed to develop and implement an Access and Inclusion Plan for the child. An application cannot be submitted in the absence of parental consent. This consent must be provided on the relevant parental consent form.

34. Where do I get the parent or guardian or carer consent form?
The Parental Consent form is part of the Access and Inclusion Profile and can be downloaded here. The consent form can be printed and signed when the profile is being completed. The pre-school manager should then upload the signed consent form and submit it with the completed online Access and Inclusion Profile.

35. What happens after I submit an Access and Inclusion Profile?
Once a service provider submits an Access and Inclusion Profile they will get an acknowledgement that it has been received. The profile is then reviewed by the Early Years Specialists who will call the service provider and either provide phone support or arrange a visit to the pre-school. The degree of support provided by the specialist will depend on the needs of the child in the context of the service.

36. How will the specialist ensure a joined-up approach to meeting each child’s needs?
An Access and Inclusion Plan will be developed to support the child’s participation in pre-school. The plan will be developed based on observations made by the parent or guardian or carer, service provider and Early Years Specialist, with observations and assessments made by clinicians.

Level 5 – Equipment, Appliances and Minor Alterations

37. How can a service provider access funding for specialised equipment and minor alterations on behalf of a child?
Application forms will be available through the online PIP Portal at www.pobal.ie from 24th June 2016. For information purposes, a copy of the application form can be viewed here.  Please note that parental consent is required in order to make an application.

38. What type of minor alterations and equipment can be funded for under Level 5?
A full list of the minor alterations which can be funded under the scheme is included here.

A full list of equipment which is covered by the scheme is also listed here.

39. What information is needed to support a level 5 application for minor alterations or equipment?
Applications for level 5 supports can fall into three categories as follows:

  • Applications for minor alterations
  • Applications for equipment in respect of a visual or hearing impairment
  • Applications for equipment in respect of all other types of disability

In each case, a report from a ‘designated professional’ is required which confirms that:

(a) The proposed alterations or equipment are necessary and critical to enabling the child’s participation in the ECCE programme in the relevant pre-school,
(b) In the case of minor alterations, the proposed works are compliant with the Building (Part M Amendment) Regulations 2010, and
(c) In the case of equipment, the proposed equipment is not already available in the pre-school setting or capable of being transferred and used in the pre-school setting.

In the case of minor alterations, the designated professional can be (1) an architect, (2) an engineer or (3) an occupational therapist working for, or on behalf of, the HSE.

In the case of equipment in respect of a visual or hearing impairment, the designated professional can be (1) a Department of Education and Skills Visiting Teacher, (2) an occupational therapist working for, or on behalf of, the HSE or (3) a speech and language therapist working for, or on behalf of, the HSE.

In the case of equipment in respect of all other types of disability, the designated professional can be a health and social care professional working for, or on behalf of the HSE, in any of the following roles: (1) occupational therapist, (2) physiotherapist, (3) speech and language therapist or (4) other agreed category of health and social care professional.

For further information, please see the Capital Guidelines on the content of professional reports.

40. What is the maximum capital grant allowable for minor alterations?
The maximum grant allowable is €7,000 including VAT for minor alterations, of which a maximum of €300 including VAT can be used towards professional fees where an Architect or Engineer’s report is required.

41. Where an application for equipment is approved, does the service provider have to procure the equipment?
No, the service provider does not have to procure the equipment. Pobal, on behalf of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, will source all equipment approved under the level 5 scheme and will ensure that it is delivered directly to the pre-school setting.

42. Can a service provider apply for funding to access the outdoor play area?
Yes, where this is specific to a child’s need to access the play area. Other external alterations to the play area, or requests to improve the quality of outdoor areas or outdoor play equipment (standard or specialised) are not eligible under this scheme.

Level 6 – Therapeutic Intervention

43. How can my child access level 6 therapeutic supports?
A parent / guardian / carer, in partnership with a service provider, can apply for level 6 therapeutic supports by completing the Access and Inclusion Profile on the PIP Portal at www.pobal.ie. The Early Years Specialist Service (Access and Inclusion) will review the profile and, where therapeutic input is likely to be required, they will initiate contact with the HSE.

Level 7 – Additional Capitation

44. How do I apply for level 7 additional capitation?
A service provider, in partnership with a parent, can apply for level 7 additional capitation by completing the Access and Inclusion Profile and the level 7 ‘service request’ within the profile. Following this, an Early Years Specialist will be in contact with the service provider to progress the application.

45. Are there any conditions associated with the use of level 7 additional capitation?
When approving an application for level 7 capitation, Pobal (the scheme administrator) will also stipulate any conditions relating to its use. Examples of such conditions might involve specifying that funding should be used to: free up the Inclusion Co-ordinator or another experienced staff member so that s/he can dedicate more time to the child with the complex disability; enable a staff member to be trained in specific care routines or therapeutic strategies so as to enable a child to attend and participate in the ECCE programme; to reduce the overall staff ratio in the setting; and/ or to obtain additional assistance in the classroom from a person with certain minimum qualifications.

46. I am receiving part-time assistance from the HSE to allow my child to attend pre-school. Can I also apply for additional assistance through this model?
Yes, an application for level 7 additional capitation can be granted on a pro-rata basis (i.e. for the remaining hours) if necessary.

47. Where a level 7 additional capitation has been granted to allow a reduction in the staff ratio, to what level can the ratio be dropped?
Where the maximum rate of level 7 capitation has been approved, the ratio can be reduced from 1 adult to 11 children down to 1 adult to 8 children, without causing any financial loss to the service.

Use of Information and Data Protection

48. What will happen to the information provided as part of an AIM application?
Information provided as part of an application for any targeted supports under AIM will be used to identify what, if any, additional supports or resources a child may need in order to participate in the ECCE Programme.

49. How will information be provided as part of an application be stored?
All information will be stored in a secure manner by Pobal and the Early Years Specialist Service. Hard copies will be held in locked cabinets. Online files will be encrypted and password protected and only accessed by authorised personnel. The information on the child will be held for two years from the end of contract with the service.

50. How will information be provided as part of an application be shared?
Information may be shared with relevant professionals working under AIM, such as Early Years Specialists, HSE or HSE funded health professionals, Pobal, Department of Children & Youth Affairs, Department of Education & Skills, National Council for Special Education and City or County Childcare Committees. Information will only be shared with relevant professionals for the purpose of supporting the child in the pre-school setting.

Section E: Exemptions to the ECCE age limit

51. Are there any exemptions to the ECCE age limit where a child is considered not ready to start primary school?
From September 2016, children will be eligible to attend the ECCE programme from the age of 3 years until they start primary school (once the child is not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the pre-school year, i.e. end June). The only exception to this rule is an exemption on the grounds of disability or special needs.

Such an exemption is allowed in circumstances where the request is underpinned by a medical assessment report from the HSE medical specialist, specifying the child’s special need and diagnosis.

The requirement for a medical assessment report from the HSE medical specialist is not intended to undermine the view of a parent or teacher in relation to a child’s needs but, rather, to maintain a clear and standard basis for applying exemptions.

AIM, the new model of supports will focus on the developmental level of children with disabilities, their functional ability and their needs, and will not focus on medical diagnosis. In line with this approach, a review of the current basis for providing exemptions from ECCE eligibility criteria, i.e. the current requirement for a medical-based assessment will be undertaken. This review will take some time to complete and in the interim, the policy remains as outlined above.