The ombudsman launched an investigation following a complaint from the mother of a four-year-old profoundly deaf girl who started pre-school in Dublin four years ago.
The findings are now being published, but some issues are still not resolved to the ombudsman’s satisfaction. Among them is the fact that a 2011 report of various Government departments on the issue has yet to be published or fully implemented.
The key concern of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman is that, three years later, levels of support such as assistance for children with physical care needs still vary within the early childhood care and education (ECCE) scheme, depending on available resources in each HSE region.
“It’s inconsistent throughout the country and parents have raised concern about the adequacy of it,” said the OCO investigator who examined the case.
Ms Logan told the Irish Examiner that the level of supports for children with disabilities in accessing mainstream pre-school is repeatedly raised with her office.
“This highlights the need to ensure that their best interest is at the centre of all policy development and that planning for children with disabilities is a key part of that process,” she said.
The girl’s mother complained in 2011 that she was only receiving six hours of special needs assistance a week from the HSE, while funded to attend her local pre-school for 15 hours weekly. This meant she could only attend for two of the five days a week. Although she was eventually allowed attend pre-school three days a week over a second year, the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs was found to have adversely affected the child by creating uncertainty about her entitlements.
She was initially refused a second year, after her mother told the OMCYA she was not ready to progress from pre-school because of her disabilities. She eventually secured funding to go to pre-school three days a week the following school year, after the pre-schools records confirmed she was no longer attending all five days, but the availability of this option was not initially made known to her by the OMCYA.
A joint statement from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Department of Health said the issue of pre-school supports is being looked at by a sub-group of an inter-departmental team on children’s disability issues.
The sub-group was set up last year to review the 2011 report “and to consider and recommend how best this cross-cutting issue could be further advanced, taking account of resources and the extensive reforms and other changes which have taken place since the report was completed”.
The OCO found no specific plan was in place for children with disabilities when the ECCE scheme began in 2010, only that children with special needs would be accommodated as much as possible.