We have sought an urgent meeting with Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman to discuss the very serious concerns parents have for their pre-schoolers with Down syndrome who have received little to no State services since the beginning of the pandemic. We are a year into the crisis and young children with Down syndrome have been virtually forgotten and we need this addressed.
We have been inundated with messages from parents about the impact preschool closures are having on their children who are due to transition to mainstream school in September 2021. Challenges around communication, safety, self-care needs and mobility have been further exacerbated by the withdrawal of multiple therapies such as Speech and Language Therapy, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy. As you know, although access to therapies was already limited, they are now largely absent, with many therapists redeployed to COVID related tasks.
The purpose of the AIM programme is to ensure delivery of an inclusive pre-school experience, ensuring that every eligible child can meaningfully participate in the ECCE programme and reap the benefits of quality early years care and education and to facilitate a smooth transition to mainstream school. Children with Down syndrome have missed out on a significant portion of their ECCE programme and parents are concerned about their child’s school readiness and the implications of starting school without adequate preparation and support.
Our goal, as we advocate and campaign for appropriate education options, is to ensure that children with Down syndrome within the early years are not forgotten, and that meaningful ways to support their early years education and transition to mainstream school are put in place. Options, which must be available to all families, should include:
- Access to a supplementary programme of in person education for children with SEN within the early years setting to ensure they can make a successful transition to mainstream school.
- Access to programmes/supports that will ensure a smooth transition to mainstream school e.g., school readiness programmes
- Access to therapies.
- Overage Exemption – We would ask for flexibility for children who require an additional year of pre-school due to the extraordinary circumstances that have occurred. The importance of high-quality early years education which focuses on supporting children to achieve their full potential in mainstream school cannot be underestimated. It is therefore essential that the provision of ECCE overage exemptions is continued for children with disabilities. We would again ask for flexibility for those parents who have recently been refused access to this exemption as their children will need additional support due to their child’s absence from preschool in recent months.
We are calling on Minister O’Gorman and officials within the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, to work closely with stakeholders to find a solution that will allow our most vulnerable students to transition to mainstream school with the appropriate supports in place.
Meanwhile, we are here to continue to support you – if you need any help or assistance, or would like to join any of our early intervention support classes, please contact our Early Years Specialist Olive at firstname.lastname@example.org.