The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a model of supports designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the ECCE programme. 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 and the pre-school service. It offers tailored, practical supports based on need and does not require a formal diagnosis of disability.
Level 7 of AIM provides additional assistance in the pre-school room where this is critical to ensuring a child’s participation in the ECCE programme. In line with emerging best practice to support the integration and independence of children with a disability, AIM does not fund Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). Rather, it provides financial support to the pre-school provider, which can be used by the pre-school provider either to reduce the adult to child ratio in the pre-school room (enabling the provider to reduce the number of children in the room without impacting on the provider's total income) or to buy in additional assistance to the pre-school room. Accordingly, Level 7 assistance is a shared resource for the pre-school setting.
The funding is disbursed to the pre-school provider, through Pobal, who are charged with administration of DCYA programmes. There are restrictions on the use to which AIM funding can be put, as is only right and appropriate to guidelines on grant funding and use of public money. Pre-school providers are awarded AIM Level 7 funding as a result of an assessment carried out by an Early Years Specialist, and guidance and support on how best to utilise the funding may be provided. However, as with all DCYA Early Learning and Care funding programmes, the pre-school provider is the employer of the staff who work in the setting. It is therefore for the pre-school provider to take all necessary steps to ensure they are meeting their legal obligations as an employer.
First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, includes a commitment to review the funding model for the Early Learning and Care sector, under which employers will be supported to provide more favourable working conditions to attract and retain staff. The new funding model will leverage additional investment for certain criteria, for example, better pay, or full implementation of the curriculum. It is envisaged that this may open alternative mechanisms by which the State could incentivise services to meet national standards in relation to wages and/or working conditions.