The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), which was launched in June 2016, is a model of supports designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme. Its goal is to empower early learning and care practitioners to deliver an inclusive preschool experience, ensuring that every eligible child can meaningfully participate in the ECCE programme and reap the benefits of quality early years care and education.
AIM is a child-centred model, involving seven levels of progressive support, moving from the universal to the targeted, based on the needs of the child in the context of the preschool setting they are attending. AIM is administered by Pobal on behalf of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
AIM is already available to children attending full-day care settings, but only for the hours during which they are taking part in the ECCE programme. AIM is intrinsically linked to the parameters provided by the ECCE programme in that AIM is available only to those who are eligible for and participating on the ECCE programme for the duration of the ECCE programme i.e. 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, 38 weeks of the year, over a 2-year period.
Extending AIM to all pre-school children in full day care could involve extending AIM to children younger than the minimum age for ECCE of 2 years 8 months, and it is not known what proportion of younger children would require AIM supports.
Even if an extension of AIM to full day care were limited to those children who are already eligible for ECCE and already availing of AIM supports, it is not known what proportion of these children would make use of provision beyond the 15 free hours per week provided by ECCE and the 38 weeks of the year in which ECCE is currently available.
The primary cost of extending AIM would be the cost of Level 7 AIM support, which is provided to enable the early learning and care setting to either (a) reduce the adult-to-child ratio, or (b) acquire additional staff resources for the preschool room. The Level 7 payment is currently set at €195 per week based on highly complex needs for a 15-hour week. The cost of AIM Level 7 in the programme year 2018-19 was approximately €19m. In its simplest possible extrapolation, assuming that all children benefitting from 3 hours of support per day were instead to benefit from 8 hours of support per day, the cost of Level 7 would rise by €32m to €51m per year. If provision were also extended to year-round support, the cost might rise a further €19m to €70m, on a 52-week basis. However, it is unlikely that all children currently availing of AIM supports would attend 8 hours per day or 52 weeks per year, and furthermore many services that provide ECCE and AIM do not offer full day care.
It must also be noted that Level 7 would not be the only additional cost required to provide an extension of AIM to preschool children attending full day care. In particular, the increased capitation paid in respect of qualified Inclusion Coordinators (€2 per child per ECCE week) might rise. In addition, the cost of other elements of AIM, such as equipment, might also rise. It is therefore difficult to establish reliable estimates of costs associated with extending AIM to full day care provision.
Nevertheless, the Government has committed in First 5 to consider enhancements to and/or extension of AIM. In the coming months my Department will initiate the end-of-year-three evaluation of AIM, which will provide important data to inform consideration of future extensions.