Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Children Robert Troy TD has responded to the acknowledgement by the Department of Children that many children with disabilities are being denied access to suitable childcare. Deputy Troy says there is an urgent need to put in a place a targeted investment fund to train special needs assistants at pre-school level.

Deputy Tory commented, “Children with disabilities are being denied their free pre-school places because of a lack of Special Needs Assistants. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has acknowledged that the current co-ordination and provision of supports for children with special needs is not satisfactory and that there are massive inconsistencies in preschool provision for children with SEN across the country.

“This is an issue that Fianna Fáil has been raising on the floor of the Dáil over the last number of years. However Minister for Children James Reilly has not taken on board our concerns. Minister Fitzgerald also refused to acknowledge the problem when she occupied that position. “Every child with a special educational need should be enabled to access early childhood care and education services. However research carried out by DESSA revealed that 21% of services taking part in the research had previously turned away a child with special educational needs from their service. Reasons given included accessibility, inability to meet the child’s specific needs and lack of training.

“Despite repeated promises, Minister James Reilly has refused to publish a National Inclusion Plan for the early childhood sector for children with disabilities or special educational needs (SEN). Children with Special Needs are being denied their fundamental rights to pre-school, a vital stage in their early education and development.

“There is no specialised staff training or targeted supports for children with SEN. Either parents or service providers are expected to fund the additional cost of employing a special needs assistant as required. This acts as a barrier to entry to the universal free pre-school year for many children, especially those from less well-off backgrounds.

“Fianna Fáil will establish a SEN Support Fund of €10 million, for ECCE providers to enable early childhood services to provide fully inclusive opportunities for all children. This will assist providers in providing inclusive ECCE for children with SEN, giving them adequately resources to support children to access both longer periods of pre-school education (maximum 2 years) and to access for Special Needs Assistant supports.

“The fund will also support the up-skilling and training of staff in caring and educating children with SEN. This fund could be accessed by parents locally through the City/County Childcare Committee structure. Acceptance of increased capitation would require the employment of specialist support personnel and the provision of an individual education plan (IEP) for each child.

“This measure alongside the provision of a second full free pre-school year for children with special needs will enable these children to avail of more targeted supports and a longer preparation period prior to starting school. This model will place a particular emphasis on transitional arrangements for children with special needs from pre-school to primary school” said Deputy Troy.