From September 2018, all children meeting the minimum age requirement of 2 years and 8 months are eligible for a full two programme years on the Early Childhood Care and Education programme (ECCE). This measure refines the development introduced the previous year and increases the duration of each registered child on ECCE from a current average of 61 weeks, to a potential duration of 76 weeks (two programme years). This delivers fully on a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government that is good for children, families and Early Years providers.
This minimum age was chosen based on national experience and a review of international practice. It also had regard to the regulatory environment for early years care and education in this country and issues such as child development readiness and adult-child ratios. The upper age limit remains the same (i.e. a child is not eligible if they will be 5 years and 6 months before the end of the programme year).
In order for a child to be eligible to be enrolled for free pre-school in September 2019 they must have been born between 1st January 2015 and 31st December 2016, i.e. they must have reached 2 years and 8 months on or before 31st August 2018.
In the example cited by the Deputy, the child will not be able to commence their ECCE in September 2019 as they will not have reached the age of 2 years and 8 months on or before 31st August 2019. However, they will be able to commence ECCE in September 2020, and continue for a further year from September 2021, commencing school in September 2022.
Some parents of children born around this time of the year may prefer for their children to start school at 4 rather than 5. These parents may therefore opt for 1 year of ECCE only. This decision is entirely at the discretion of the parent/s or guardian but it is important to reiterate that two full years of ECCE provision is available to all children.
In such circumstances, they should note that the universal subsidy for 0-3 years of age, of up to €1040 per year, is available to parents of children in registered childcare until the child is eligible for ECCE. It should also be noted that the National Childcare Scheme will launch in October 2019 and income-assessed subsidies will be available to families with children aged between 24 months and 15 years. This is a means-tested subsidy and is calculated based on a family's circumstances. The rate will vary depending on the level of family income, the child’s age and educational stage, and the number of children in the family. Further details of the new scheme due to be launched in October 2019 are available on the National Childcare Scheme website, https://ncs.gov.ie/