Thank you for your query regarding an application for support through the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM). As you are aware, AIM is a model of supports designed to ensure that children with a disability can access the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) (free pre-school) programme. The key objective of AIM is to support early learning and care providers to deliver an inclusive pre-school experience, ensuring that children with a disability can meaningfully participate in the ECCE programme, thereby reaping the benefits of quality pre-school education.
I understand that your query relates specifically to an application for Additional Assistance – AIM Level 7. All applications take time, which is why it is advisable to apply well in advance of the child commencing on the ECCE Programme, in order to allow for an observation visit of the child in the early learning and care setting to be carried out. In this instance the application for supports through AIM was received on 10th July 2019. An observation visit was conducted on 3rd September 2019, once the child had started attending the setting, by a Better Start Early Years Specialist. Following review and appraisal of the recommendation by the Early Years Specialist, Pobal communicated the final decision to the early learning and care provider on 18th October 2019.
In relation to the granting of 30 weeks funding, this has been allocated as per the AIM programme rules which state that backdating of AIM Level 7 payments is not permitted. The reason backdating of AIM Level 7 payments is not permitted is because AIM provides a range of supports, both universal and targeted. In many cases the universal supports provided through AIM, which include staff training, are sufficient to enable the full participation of a child with a disability. In relation to targeted supports, having reviewed the needs of a child in the context of the early learning and care setting, an Early Years Specialist may provide advice on strategies to support the child's inclusion. In some cases, the Early Years Specialist may recommend funding for additional assistance, either to allow for an additional staff member or to enable a reduction in the adult to child ratio.
Funding for an additional staff member is therefore only one of a range of supports provided under AIM, and may not be the most appropriate support. Where an application for AIM support is submitted, an Early Years Specialist determines the most appropriate type of support, depending on the needs of the child in the context of the early learning and care setting. It would therefore not be appropriate for an additional staff member to be recruited until funding for this purpose is approved.
Since the September 2019 programme call opened on May 1st, the average response time from submission of an Access and Inclusion Profile to conducting an observation visit for a child or children in the ECCE programme - which is necessary to determine the level of need - has been 26 days. This is within the expected timeline as per the Access and Inclusion Profile guidance, which states that, following a review of the information provided, a member of the Better Start Access and Inclusion team will contact the pre-school within 4-6 weeks of submission.
Once an observation visit has taken place, an Early Years Specialist within Better Start completes a report, which goes through a review and appraisal process. On average the time from observation to final decision is 23 days. Therefore, in total, from observation visit to decision it takes on average 49 days to process an AIM application. In this case, approvals were given within these timeframes. Payment for the AIM Level 7 – Additional Assistance was awarded from the Monday after the approval, and was awarded for the remainder of the preschool year.