Number of disabled pupils taking up free pre-school year unknown

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has no record of how many pupils with disabilities take up options to extend or delay their use of Government-funded pre-schooling.

Number of disabled pupils taking up free pre-school year unknown

Although the option has been available since soon after the free Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) was introduced four years ago, the DCYA told the Irish Examiner it does not know how many of around 68,000 children funded for the programme each year benefit.

“Figures for exemptions are not available,  as we do not routinely gather that information, but the intention is to do so in the future,” a spokesperson said.

ECCE rules say a child can only be funded for one year and must be aged under 4 years and 7 months when they start, but they can be allowed start late if they are developmentally delayed. It is also possible, but also only after applications supported by medical assessment, to spread the ECCE provision over two years for children with special needs (attending two days a week in year one, for example, and three days in the second year).

As revealed by the Irish Examiner yesterday, Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan found the actions of the office of the minister for children and youth affairs — whose duties were taken over by the DCYA in 2011 — adversely affected a four-year-old girl and her family by creating uncertainty about her entitlements.

The mother of the profoundly deaf Dublin girl had complained that the six hours of support of learning support provided through the HSE each week meant she could not attend the full 15 hours a week of pre-school being funded under the ECCE. But she was not told about the option to have her daughter spread her attendance across a second year, which was eventually made available to her.

The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (OCO) investigation also criticised the failure of Government departments to agree a national policy on supports for children with physical care needs to allow them fully access their entitlement to the free pre-school year.

Special Needs Parents Association chairwoman Lorraine Dempsey, writing in today’s Irish Examiner, described the system as a “postcode lottery” that the Government must address.

“It really does depend on where you live and existing funding arrangements, or if your child is with an existing service provider.” But, she said, many pre-schools need to be less reluctant to enrol special needs children, a problem faced by many families trying to avail of services...

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