In May 2018, representatives from Down Syndrome Ireland, along with a number of parents of young children with Down syndrome, took part in a consultation process regarding ECCE overage exemptions.
On the 29th of March, 2019, the report resulting from this consultation, compiled by the National Disability Authority (NDA) was launched.
The report is based on research evidence, details of arrangements in other countries, findings of a survey of parents who are currently availing of an ECCE overage exemption, follow up interviews and findings of the open policy debate.
The report can be accessed here.
The report does not contain recommendations; however, it states that the NDA are of the view that the current system of ECCE overage exemptions should cease once an enhanced supportive process for children and parents is put in place. They believe it is critical that there is an agreed transition process from early years settings to primary school, involving engagement between parents, preschools, primary schools, SENO’s and AIM early years specialists. The report acknowledges that most parents interviewed as part of the consultation experienced supports, services and information provision in a very fragmented way, and believes that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs should play a pivotal role in providing more consistent accurate information to families. In a letter of advice to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the NDA recommends the introduction of an enhanced support process, called AIM Plus. This would include transition support, earlier engagement by SENO’s and co-ordinated supports.
As a result of this report, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone has asked that a group of experts in early learning and care, education and health, together with a parent representative, be convened to agree the next steps. The group will focus on how to support parents in planning for their children’s needs; improving the process of transition for children with additional needs from early learning and care settings to primary school, and to ensure that parents are assured that the school will address the children’s need.
Down Syndrome Ireland welcomes some of the findings of the report, particularly in relation to the need for transition supports and consistent information.
However, we are very disappointed that given the long delay in releasing this report (it was due in June 2018), no concrete recommendations or decisions are included.
Families who are currently facing decisions about their children’s education are in no way supported by the findings of this report. Families who are currently in a position of applying for overage exemptions or deferrals for their children continue to receive inconsistent information. Also, the current system for applying for overage exemptions/deferrals requires parents to receive a letter of support from their child’s Early Intervention Team. A number of members have recently expressed concern to Down Syndrome Ireland that their child’s Early intervention Team are not in a position to provide such letters, leaving families unable to apply.
We have requested an urgent meeting with the Minister to discuss these issues, along with the findings of the report, and will keep families up to date with any developments.