Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte has said that Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone must ensure that rules around the Early Care and Education Scheme are flexible for children with special needs.
The ECCE is government scheme that provides early childhood care and education for preschool aged children until they transition into Primary School.
The state pays a fee to participating daycare and playschools, and they provide free services for the children.
But Deputy Rabbitte has said that she’s been contacted by parents of children with special needs who have been told their children cannot use the ECCE because they’ve also been receiving the HSE’s Pre-School Specialised Support.
“This issue applies to a very small number of children, and I do feel that if parents, childcare providers and development specialists are all in agreement,” Deputy Rabbite said.
“That if a child will do better by attending preschool in addition to undergoing Pre-School Specialised support; then it should be facilitated.”
The Fianna Fáil TD praised the work of the scheme, but said that inconsistencies in its rules must be corrected to ensure that everyone has equal access, regardless of their circumstances.
“The benefit of ECCE is that children can learn and play with other children, something which is just as important for children with disabilities as it is for those without.”
“If we, for all intents and purposes, ban children who are getting HSE Pre-School Specialised support from attending an ECCE placement, we severely hamper the socialisation process which is crucial in terms of preparing children for school and other learning settings,” Deputy Rabbitte said.
From this year, children can use the ECCE when they turn two years and eight months old, and are entitled to use it until they enter primary school.
That’s provided they’re not more than five years and six months old at the end of the preschool year.
“Pre-School Specialised support does not replace, nor can it replace, ECCE. They are different programmes of support, and while we need to be cognisant of overall budgets, the number of children that is affected by this apparent prohibition is very limited,” Deputy Rabbitte said.
“Stopping children with special needs that require Pre-School Specialised support from attending ECCE will damage the ability of those children to integrate into mainstream schooling in the future.”