Fianna Fáil TD for Longford / Westmeath Robert Troy has raised the significant issue of pre-school education provision for children with special needs during a special Adjournment Debate in the Dáil.
 
Speaking during the debate Deputy Troy said: “When the ECCE [Early Childhood Care and Education] scheme was introduced, the HSE early intervention teams were told children could apply for a second free pre-school year.  Exemptions were to be allowed where children had been assessed by the HSE or a treating consultant as having special needs that would delay their entry to school or if the enrolment policy of the local primary school was to accept children at an older age.  Those were the circumstances in which a child could apply for a second year of pre-school.
 
“In the wider Mullingar district and 75% of County Westmeath, only 20 children are currently waiting for their second free pre-school.
 
“This is something that can and should be delivered by the Government.”
 
Deputy Troy told the Dáil: “Parents of children with special needs are unable to keep their children at home and are sending them to primary school although the children are not intellectually ready for primary school.  This is putting additional pressure on primary schools, on the special needs service in primary schools and on the general resources for primary schools… the early stage of childhood development is critically important to children’s long-term development.  This is even more so the case for special needs children.”
 
Deputy Troy said: “The free pre-school year of enormous benefit to children, their families, and the education system itself as children are attending school more prepared.  However a complete second year of pre-school would be of considerable value to children with special needs.  The parents of these children are physically and emotionally exhausted and are unable to fight for themselves, which is why I raised this issue in the Dáil.”
 
“I am calling on the new Department of Children and Minister Francis Fitzgerald to support the appointment of additional SNAs and to provide a second free preschool place for children with special needs.  
 
“They have nothing; it is as if they do not exist,” Deputy Troy told the Dáil.
 
“The new Department has a golden opportunity to do this.”
 
Emphasising the need to priorities early childhood education, particularly for children with special needs, Deputy Troy acknowledged: “There are 63,000 children around the country benefiting from the free pre-school year, almost 95% of those eligible.  We must ensure that children with special needs are also catered for with a second year option for them and their parents.
 
Deputy Troy concluded: “I note that Minister Fitzgerald has asked her Department to examine options, including the extension of a second free preschool year to children with special needs and, eventually, to all children.  This is a welcome position from the Government but I would urge the Minister to look at extending the provision for children with special needs as soon as possible.”