The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme provides one free pre-school year to qualifying children before they commence primary school. The ECCE programme is a free and universal programme to which all children have access and there is no provision in the programme contract for the exclusion of any child.
To make the ECCE programme more accessible to children with special needs a number of additional provisions are in place. These include an exemption from the upper age limit for qualification under the programme where a child is developmentally delayed and would benefit from starting primary school at a later age. In addition, children with special needs can apply to have the pre-school year split over two years on a pro-rata basis, for example availing of the programme for 2 days a week in the first year and for 3 days a week in the second year. Application for these exemptions are made prior to the child commencing the programme.
I am aware that the Health Service Executive does, where possible, provide additional supports to children with special needs to enable them to avail of pre-school services in mainstream pre-school settings and my Department has been working with the Department of Health in the context of building better supports to facilitate the inclusion of special needs children in mainstream childcare services. Also, in Budget 2013 a capital funding programme was available to allow childcare services to apply for grants under four strands, one of which was to improve the accessibility of services for children with disabilities.