DSI meets with Department of Children and Youth Affairs to highlight parents’ concerns
Applications for Overage Exemptions are being accepted only for this preschool year (2019/2020), officials from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs have confirmed. They told us that children who have already had two full years of ECCE will not be considered, unless they have missed a considerable number of sessions over their two years due to illness and/or medical appointments.
We are continuing to campaign for flexibility in the scheme. We recognise that parents want to have some choice over which two years they avail of ECCE. We also call on the DCYA to acknowledge that many children will be unable to attend five days a week due to illness or appointments, and to ensure that there is an element of flexibility built into any scheme to accommodate.
We met with Department officials earlier this week to discuss parents’ concerns regarding a number of changes happening to various child support schemes which directly affect young children with Down syndrome. At the meeting, we outlined that parents of young children need to make decisions early about pre-school and they need to know now what changes are coming down the line and how will these changes may affect them and apply for pre-school and school places accordingly.
Areas we discussed were the ECCE overage exemption, the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme (CCS, CCSP, CCSR, CCSR(T)) , the upcoming National Childcare Scheme as well as the inclusion of the See and Learn programme into AIM supports.
Department officials outlined that a submission will be presented to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone and the Minister for Education and Skills, Mr Joe McHugh based on the findings of the National Disability Authority report with regard to overage exemptions for the ECCE free pre-school programme.
The submission will outline next steps in terms of ECCE and is due to be presented to both Ministers in the coming weeks. We have requested flexibility in the scheme, particularly regarding when children start and finish.
We are aware that some families are in considerable distress. Having been refused an overage exemption because they have had their two year allocation, but with no school place lined up, parents are either paying privately for preschool or keeping their children at home. It is not in the best interests of any child to have the continuity in their educational journey and support for the transition into primary school disrupted, and dependent on family income and circumstances. It’s also not in their best interests to rush into primary school unprepared, when both family and school had anticipated a further year at preschool. We would encourage parents to reapply for the overage exemption for this year, highlighting unavoidable absences and appointments.
Community Childcare Subvention Scheme and the National Childcare Scheme
Parents have been advised they will continue to receive their existing supports for 2019 / 2020 if they are already registered. Parents who are not currently registered for all existing Community Childcare Subvention Schemes need to do so prior to October 11th to ensure they receive upcoming benefits.
As you may know, the National Childcare Scheme is due to be launched next month. Under the scheme, families will be assessed based on income only (deducting any allowable items, such as PRSI and social protection payments).
We urged the Department to consider the impact of the income assessed subsidy on families of children with Down syndrome who may fall outside the income thresholds for maximum subsidy, but for whom the change in criteria may put them under huge financial pressures.
We also voiced parents’ concerns about their additional stress as the Subsidy Calculator has yet to be launched so families cannot calculate their exact entitlements.
Officials said the calculator will be launched when the scheme launches in October. In the meantime, parents can contact the NCS Parents Centre on (01)9068530 should they have questions or if you would like to receive an estimate of how the change may impact on your family.
Inclusion of See and Learn into the AIM supports
Every child is now entitled to two free preschool years and the AIM supports are available to early childcare and education settings. However, there is limited training available on the specific learning profile and learning needs of children who have Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome are likely to need structured teaching to support their development of speech, language and reading skills.
The inclusion of structured programmes such as See and Learn into the preschool will provide the step by step visual support that children with Down syndrome need to help them learn.
See and Learn is a structured, evidence based programme used to promote the development of speech, language and reading skills in small steps for children with Down syndrome up to 6 years of age.
The programme is designed to help educators and parents provide young children with the additional support and practice they need to learn language.
As you may know, Down Syndrome Ireland is investing in the programme this year with funds raised though our HB Fundays campaign. You can find out more here.
We want to see the Department of Children and Youth Affairs fund the future roll out of See and Learn so that it is fully sustainable in the long term.
We highlighted our existing training and rollout programme and our intention to evaluate the programme’s impact on children with Down syndrome. We have been invited to make a submission to the Department after the initial roll-out. We hope to be able to demonstrate the impact of the programme and make the case for it to be made available through the AIM supports in future years.
Thank you to all of the parents who contacted us – we have provided the Department of Children and Youth Affairs with a document highlighting your concerns and we will continue to work on your behalf to ensure that children with Down syndrome are adequately supported in early years settings.
We will keep you updated.