This section of the website contains information for parents and guardians of children with disabilities.
Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)
The benefits for children of quality early childhood care and education are well documented.
Under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme, all eligible children in the Republic of Ireland are entitled to free early childhood care and education (otherwise known as ‘free pre-school’) in the period before they start primary school.
With effect from September 2016, children have been 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. However, with effect from September 2018, there will only be one intake of children in September each year – increasing all children’s participation on the ECCE programme to two full pre-school years, please see the ECCE eligibility calendar).
In order to support children with a disability to access free pre-school, a major new programme of supports, the Access and Inclusion Mode (AIM), has been introduced.
Access and Inclusion Model (AIM)
The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a programme of supports designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme in mainstream pre-school settings and can participate fully in the pre-school curriculum alongside their peers.
AIM is a child centred model of supports, involving seven levels of progressive support, moving from the universal to the targeted, based on the needs of the child and the pre-school provider. The model is designed to be responsive to the needs of each individual child in the context of their pre-school setting. It will offer tailored, practical supports based on need and will not require a formal diagnosis of disability.
Levels 1 – 3 of the model involve a suite of universal supports which are designed to promote and support an inclusive culture within pre-school settings by means of a variety of educational and capacity-building initiatives for pre-school providers and practitioners. International evidence suggests that these supports, when appropriately developed, are sufficient to support many children with disabilities.
However, where a pre-school 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 education advice and mentoring (level 4), specialised equipment, appliances and minor alterations (level 5), therapeutic supports (level 6) and additional capitation to fund extra assistance in the ECCE pre-school room (level 7). More information on these targeted supports is provided below.
Finally, AIM applies to all mainstream pre-school settings which are funded through the ECCE Programme. In addition to mainstream settings, pre-school services are also offered in special pre-schools and early intervention classes which cater exclusively for children with disabilities. While the underlying vision of AIM is to cater for as many children as possible in mainstream settings, it is recognised that a small number of children will continue to need specialised services.
Targeted Supports under AIM
A range of targeted supports are available under levels 4 – 7 of the Access and Inclusion Model.
Level 4: Expert Educational Advice and Support
Under level 4, pre-school providers can access a national service where specialists in early years care and education for children with disabilities can provide expert advice, mentoring and support. To avail of this support, pre-school providers, in partnership with parents, will be asked to complete an online Access and Inclusion Profile. This will look at the strengths, abilities and needs of the child, as well as the strengths and needs of the pre-school setting. The profile will allow the Early Years Specialist to identify what, if any, additional supports might be required to enable the child’s full participation in pre-school. A copy of the Access and Inclusion Profile can be accessed here.
The degree of support offered by Early Years Specialists will depend on the needs of the child and the pre-school provider. In some cases, this may involve developing an Individual Access and Inclusion Plan for the child within their pre-school setting, in conjunction with the parent and the pre-school provider. It may also involve liaising with HSE health and social care professionals to obtain their input and expertise.
Your pre-school provider will have contact details for the Early Years Specialist Service and will be able to contact them as needed.
Level 5: Equipment, Appliances and Minor Alterations
Under level 5, a national scheme is available to provide specialised equipment, appliances or capital grants towards minor building alterations, where these are necessary to support access and to facilitate a child’s participation in pre-school. Applications for this scheme should be made by a pre-school provider, in partnership with a parent. In all cases, a short report from a “designated professional” is required confirming that the specialised equipment or minor building alterations are necessary. Once an application for equipment is approved, this will be sourced by Pobal and delivered directly to the child’s pre-school setting. Training in the use of the equipment will also be provided. Where an application for minor building alterations is approved, a capital grant towards the cost of these alterations will be made available to the pre-school provider.
Further information on application requirements, on the different categories of “designated professional” who can complete reports and on the lists of minor alterations and equipment which may be funded under the scheme can be found in the AIM policy document and in the Pobal application and guidance documents, all of which can be accessed at the following link [Key Documents and Resources].
Level 6: Therapy Services
Therapy services which are considered critical for a child’s participation in the ECCE Programme will be made available. Arrangements are in place with the Health Service Executive (HSE) to deliver this service and a number of additional therapy posts have been funded under the Access and Inclusion Model to support this service provision.
To avail of level 6 support, pre-school providers, in partnership with parents, should complete the online Access and Inclusion Profile. The Early Years Specialist will review the profile and, where therapeutic input is likely to be required, they will initiate contact with the HSE. It should be noted that this support is limited to therapeutic interventions which are critical to a child’s participation in the ECCE Programme.
Level 7: Additional Capitation
Where the above supports are not sufficient to meet the needs of the child, pre-school providers, in partnership with parents, can apply for additional capitation to fund extra support in the classroom or to enable the reduction of the staff to child ratio.
Applications for level 7 additional capitation should be made by the pre-school provider, in partnership with the parent, by completing the Access and Inclusion Profile and, within that profile, the level 7 service request. Following this, an Early Years Specialist will be in contact with the pre-school provider to progress the application. Two different rates of level 7 capitation are payable as follows:
- A rate of €130 per week where needs are identified as complex, such that a setting would need to supplement their staffing by approximately 10 additional staff hours per week.
- A rate of €195 per week where needs are identified as highly complex, such that a setting would need to supplement their staffing by approximately 15 hours per week.
Getting Started and Accessing Supports
You will be able to access AIM supports through your pre-school provider.
If you have not as yet identified a suitable pre-school for your child, information on childcare services may be viewed on Pobal Maps via this link. You can search by facility name or address, or browse to your location to click on the service and access further information. For a video tutorial on how to use this resource please click here. If you require any further assistance with using the system, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively your local City or County Childcare Committee will be able to assist you – a list of all CCCs can be found here (CCCs).
When you have identified a pre-school for your child, your pre-school provider will, in consultation with you, consider what supports may be needed to ensure your child’s meaningful participation in the ECCE Programme.
Where it is considered that your child needs additional support, your pre-school provider can apply, in partnership with you, for targeted supports under AIM. Applications are made via the Programmes Implementation Platform (PIP) on the Pobal website. Pobal are the current administrators of the ECCE programme. As such, your pre-school provider will be familiar with the Pobal website and with PIP.
Applications can only be made with your full consent. A copy of the parental consent form can be viewed here [Parental Consent Form]. This form should be printed and signed by the parent and should then be uploaded and submitted with the completed application. In providing consent for an application to be made, you are also providing consent for information on your application to be shared with relevant professionals involved in processing the application and providing supports under AIM (eg. Early Years Specialist, HSE occupational therapist, Pobal officials etc.).
Where an application for supports has been made, Pobal will process the application and will inform both the parent and the pre-school provider of the decision reached. Where a parent, in partnership with a pre-school provider, is unhappy with the decision reached by Pobal, they can seek a review. More detail in relation to the process of decision making is available at www.pobal.ie.
The AIM policy places the child at the centre and recognises the important role of the parent in all decision-making concerning access and participation. The full policy underpinning AIM can be accessed here. Further information can also be found in the Frequently Asked Questions and Key Documents and Resources sections of this website.