From September 2018, all children meeting the minimum age requirement of 2 years and 8 months have been eligible for a full two programme years on the Early Childhood Care and Education programme (ECCE). This measure refined the development introduced in 2017 and increased the eligibility of each registered child on ECCE from an average of 61 weeks, to a potential 76 weeks (two programme years). On introduction in 2010, ECCE covered one year only or 38 weeks.
The two year eligibility delivers fully on a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government that is good for children, families and Early Years providers.
The minimum age was chosen based on national experience and a review of international practice. It also had regard to the regulatory environment for early learning and care 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 the example cited by the Deputy, the child 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/guardians may prefer for their child to start school at age 4 rather than 5. These parents/guardians may therefore opt for 1 year of ECCE only. This decision is entirely at the discretion of the parent/guardian, but it is important to reiterate that two full years of ECCE provision is available to all children.
The National Childcare Scheme offers both universal subsidies for children before they become eligible for ECCE, and income based subsidies for children aged 24 weeks to 15 years. More information is available at ncs.gov.ie.