The Government is fully committed to protecting frontline services, including services for children with disabilities, to the greatest extent possible. The inclusion of young children with disabilities in mainstream pre-school settings is an integral part of the Government’s policy on mainstreaming which advocates that mainstream public services should serve people with disabilities alongside other citizens. It is with this in mind that the HSE’s Intellectual Disability Services in Co. Donegal have embarked on a project to facilitate the inclusion, where appropriate, of children with an intellectual disability in mainstream pre-schools.
A Project Team has been established to determine the supports that will be required in mainstream pre-schools to accommodate these children. The overall aim of the Project is to ensure that these children can be educated in their own communities and with their own peers, rather than being segregated in specialist disability services, unless a child is assessed as requiring specialist care. I am advised no more than 5% of cases of children with a disability should require specialised pre-school provision to the extent that integration in a mainstream pre-school setting is not feasible.
There are currently two specialised pre-schools in Co. Donegal: St. Agnes pre-school in Donegal town and Ballaghderg pre-school in Letterkenny. The HSE has assured me that it has no immediate plans to close Ballaghderg pre-school and this pre-school will continue to deliver services until 2015. The position in respect of St. Agnes pre-school in Donegal town is that it will close at the end of 2014. The HSE arrived at this decision very recently and it was made following consultation with the parents concerned. There are currently four children at the pre-school. One of these children is due to commence school in September 2013 and the remaining three children will continue to avail of specialist pre-school services at St. Agnes until they are due to commence school in September 2014.
The HSE has given assurances that it will continue to engage with parents as this Project develops with a view to ensuring the children in question receive the best possible support in the most appropriate setting. The Framework for Action for the Inclusion of Children with Special Needs in Early Childhood Education Settings was developed as a research project by Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, having been commissioned by the Department of Education and Skills. In that context, I have been advised that the framework is used primarily as a teaching tool by those delivering courses on the inclusion of children with special needs.