For Written Answer on : 05/07/2022
Question Number(s): 438 Question Reference(s): 35442/22
Department: Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
Asked by: David Stanton T.D.
To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth if he will consider exceptions to age grounds pertaining to the Access and Inclusion Model in pre-schools; if there is any avenue by which a case can be made for such an exception to enable a child who is a few weeks too young under the current criteria to be accepted; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
AIM operates in tandem with the ECCE programme and as such, provision of AIM supports are directly linked with ECCE participation / hours of operation The ECCE programme is available to all children within the eligible age range. The minimum eligibility age of 2 years and 8 months for the ECCE programme was chosen based on national experience and a review of international practice. It also had regard to the regulatory environment for early years’ education and care in this country and issues such as child development readiness and adult-child ratios.
The Minister accepts that the use of age limits in a scheme such as ECCE creates a situation whereby a child can fall just outside the age range, however, the Department have to place an age cut-off at some point, and in the interests of fairness and consistency there can be no discretion in this regard.
The Department does its best to ensure, in so far as possible, the equitable treatment of all children and families who apply for funding under the ECCE Programme and AIM. In order to ensure objectivity and fairness, it is essential that clear rules exist for the scheme and that they are applied evenly.
One of the commitments within First 5, A Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, was to undertake an end of 3-year evaluation of AIM. That evaluation has now been completed, with the final report due to be published in quarter 3 of this year. Subject to evaluation findings and other relevant developments, we will be considering enhancements to, and/or extension of, AIM to, for example, all ELC services, all school-age childcare services and to children with additional needs other than a disability.