Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Niamh Smyth has welcomed the Children’s Minister’s decision to hold a consultation process with parents of children with disabilities ahead of proposed changes to the Over Age Exemption in the free pre-school programme.

Minister Katherine Zappone announced the process following communication with our Spokesperson on Disability Margaret Murphy O’Mahony.

The exemption provides an additional year on the ECCE scheme to children with disabilities to prepare them before they begin primary school.

“This over age exemption allows children with disabilities additional time to get themselves ready for primary school.  The transition from a childcare setting to a school environment can be daunting, and children with disabilities can experience extra anxiety when encountering changes.  This exemption was designed to help them with that and to give them some extra time and space to adapt”, explained Deputy Smyth.

“I have had a number of very worried parents in Cavan, Kingscourt, Shercock and Bailieborough contact my office – who felt completely abandoned by the Government following the Minister’s decision to withdraw the exemption.  One of the parents who was in touch was planning to take out a credit union loan so that she could pay for the additional year of care herself.

“All of the parents expressed serious concerns that their children would struggle in a primary school setting without having the additional ECCE year.  While I welcome the fact that Minister Zappone has now decided to pause the withdrawal, we need a firmer commitment from the Minister that it will be retained in full.  A one year reprieve is not good enough.

“I, along with my colleague Deputy Murphy O’Mahony will engage with the Minister and this consultation process to ensure that children with disabilities have access to the assistance they need to adapt to a new school setting”.