A Model to Support Access to Free Pre-School (ECCE) for Children with a Disability
Today, the Minister for Education, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and Minister for Disabilities launched a model to support access to the free pre-school (ECCE) scheme for Children with a Disability. The patchiness of supports for children of preschool age with disabilities in different areas across the country led to a major inequity where not all children could avail of the universal free preschool year the same as their sisters, brothers and friends. In the last budget it was announced that the ECCE scheme would be extended to every child of preschool age for a two year period which was welcomed by all, but it still did not solve the problems faced by children with disabilities to avail of what they were entitled to like their peers.
Special Needs Parents Association Chairperson Lorraine Dempsey who spoke at the launch this afternoon said that “As parents, we have spent years individually and collectively fighting to get pre-school assistants for children with disabilities who required additional support and have faced barriers to inclusion in some cases where preschools refused to take a child if additional support couldn’t be provided. While the solution seemed black and white with the focus on provision of pre-school assistants, what is being launched today goes way beyond what we envisaged with a colorful palette of supports on offer from next year”. The new scheme includes measures to address information for parents, training needs of staff, expert advice and support for pre-school providers, funding for equipment and minor alterations to premises, therapy supports for children and flexibility for the pre-school provider to buy in additional support as required.
The seven step approach to supporting children with disabilities announced today reflects what can be achieved when Departments work together at the highest level to make a positive impact and is a new way forward to ensure that our children face fewer barriers to inclusion from such an early age and new parents can be more assured that their child’s needs will be catered for in their local pre-school.
SNPA is aware that there are children with disabilities this current year who have difficulties accessing pre-schools in their area due to exhausted budgets or non availability of assistants and unfortunately the new scheme will not be in place in time to support their needs. However, where additional funding cannot be sourced we would urge pre-school providers to maintain an open door policy to including children with special needs from the outset and try to work around any difficulties that may emerge rather than preempting them and refusing a place from the outset.
Purpose and background to model
An Inter Departmental Group (IDG) was established in June 2015 to agree a model that would support access to the ECCE Programme (otherwise known as the free pre-school year) for children with a disability. Membership of the IDG, which was led by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, included:
§ Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA)
§ Department of Education and Skills (DES)
§ Department of Health (DoH)
§ Health Service Executive (HSE)
§ National Early Years Inspectorate at the Child and Family Agency, Tusla
§ National Council for Special Education (NCSE)
§ National Disability Authority (NDA),
§ Better Start: The National Early Years Quality Development Service (NEYQDS)
§ City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs)
Evidence-based analysis and conclusions
The IDG, in developing the model, drew on national and international evidence and experience. It consulted with a range of key stakeholders. The IDG is satisfied that it has developed a child (and parent) centred model that will deliver truly inclusive care and education for children, and that it will do this in a workable and sustainable manner with Early Years Providers. The Model will also generate the much required, effective cross-sectoral working between education and health services that is in the best interest of children ( and their families).
The proposed model focuses on the developmental level of children with disabilities, their functional ability and their needs. It does not focus on diagnosis, recognising that many children may not have a formal diagnosis at the time of presenting to pre-school ( from Budget 2016, age 3 years). The graphic, (below), represents an outline of the agreed model.
The Model consists of 7 levels of support that the IDG recommends to enable the full inclusion and meaningful participation of children with disabilities in free pre-school services. These supports move from universal supports, to highly targeted supports, based on the needs of the individual child, which range from non-complex to complex. The IDG was clear that this model will take some time to be fully established as capacity needs to be built in the early years sector, but the IDG agrees that front-loaded and on-going investment will result in all children of pre-school age with a disability having their needs met.
Summary of Levels:
1. An Inclusive Culture – Considered to be the critical foundation for the model, it sets out a strong culture of inclusion to be fostered and embedded in the delivery system. Development of a national inclusion policy for ECCE settings, together with incentivisation for the development of Inclusion Co-ordinators for every setting, and additional funding for training in a high quality HETAC Level 6 programme are among the recommendations being put forward.
2. Information for Parents and Providers – Recognising the requirement by all for clear, up to date, accurate and consistent information, the development of a national website linked to relevant children’s services are among the recommendations being put forward.
3. A Qualified and Confident Workforce Recognising the need to continue to develop a qualified workforce that can confidently meet requirements in this area, one of the key recommendations made is to continue to raise the minimum qualification for employment in the sector to include training of a formal and informal nature.
4. Expert Education Advice and Support. The recommendation is to enhance the existing Better Start Early Years Specialist Service, established in 2014, so that early years practitioners can have timely access to the required advice and support on a national basis. Additional highly skilled and qualified mentors will be available nationally to work with settings, children and parents to maximise the child’s participation in pre-school and to make sure the child achieves the best outcome possible. This team will also link with health and education services where appropriate.
5. Equipment Appliances and Minor Alterations Capital Grant. Recognising the need by some children for equipment and appliances, and that some service providers may need to make particular provision on their premises through minor alterations, the recommendation is for a provision of annual funding towards a minor capital grants programme.
6. Therapeutic Intervention. Further enhancement of HSE Therapy Services ( for example, Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Psychology) to enable Early Intervention Teams respond in a timely manner to children’s needs in the pre-school setting.
7. Additional Assistance in the Pre-school. A small number of children, estimated at 1.0% -1.5% of the children in pre-schools, will need additional resources in the preschool setting, outside of the supports described already at Levels 1-6, in order to ensure the child’s optimal participation. Pre-schools supporting the inclusion of these children will have access to additional capitation which will allow them buy in additional assistance for the classroom
Funding and Implementation
Funding of over 15m has been provided in 2016 to make this Model available from September 2016. A national implementation structure is being put in place.