Thank you for your query regarding AIM support funding awarded to an early learning and care setting. As you are aware, the Access and Inclusion Model (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.
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. Alternatively, 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.
In order to minimise any delays in the provision of supports, early learning and care providers are encouraged to submit applications for support (Access and Inclusion Profile) as early as possible. For the programme year that began in September 2019, the window for applications opened on 1st May 2019.
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. (Please note in order to carry out an observation visit, the child must be present in the setting.) 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 cases where a child has additionally complex needs or complex medical needs such that he or she could not reasonably be expected to attend the preschool service for an observation visit without AIM targeted supports already being in place, the observation visit may be delayed until after the supports are in place at the discretion of the Better Start Early Years Specialist Service. In such situations, targeted supports can be approved prior to an observation visit, but approval by the Better Start Early Years Specialist Service is required, and payment in relation to targeted supports cannot be backdated to a date before the date on which approval is given.
In cases where a child has been allocated AIM Level 7 support in the first year of the ECCE Programme, and the child continues the ECCE Programme in the same early learning and care setting, provided there are no changes e.g. to the adult-child ratio in the room, approval for the second year of funding may be granted without a second visit to the setting. (An observation visit will have taken place in the first year of the child's participation.)