Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Ceisteanna (437)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

437. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the unacceptable delays in processing requests for AIM assessments and subsequent payment approval processes; if her attention has been further drawn to the negative impact that the delays are having on children in view of the fact that services are unable to retain AIM workers or subsidise payment delays; the reason for the refusal to backdate approved payments to the date the AIM worker commenced in the setting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48657/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

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. 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.

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.

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 application to decision it takes on average 49 days to process an AIM application.

AIM payments for additional assistance (AIM Level 7) are made in line with the payments schedule published in August 2019 (see table). The first payment run was completed on 13 September 2019, three weeks after the commencement of the 2019/2020 ECCE programme year.  Weekly catch-up payments are also facilitated to minimise the timeframe for services from approval to payment. In order to make an AIM Level 7 payment there must be an approved registration for the AIM child which reflects the level of AIM support awarded.  Early learning and care services are informed of this requirement as part of the decision notification process and regular communications (including timelines) are published on the PIP provider portal.

With regard to the back-dating of AIM funding for an additional staff member, it should be noted that this type of support is only one of a range of supports provided under AIM. 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. The most appropriate support may not be an additional staff member. It would therefore not be appropriate for an additional staff member to be recruited until funding for this purpose is approved.

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.)

AIM Level 7 Payment Schedule

Payment Date

% paid

Cumulative paid

13th September 2019 

25% of contract value

25 % of contract value

11th October 2019 

12.5% of contract value

37.5 % of contract value

29th November 2019 

12.5% of contract value

50 % of contract value

10th January 2020 

12.5% of contract value

62.5% of contract value

21st February 2020 

12.5% of contract value

75% of contract value

27th March 2020 

12.5% of contract value

87.5% of contract value

22nd May 2020 

12.5% of contract value

100 % of contract value

  Please Note:

- Payments may vary throughout the year, if there are any changes to approved funding.

- Catch up payments will be made to services on a weekly basis.

- This schedule is for information purposes only. DCYA reserves the right to amend it at any stage.

- Service Providers are advised to check PIP on a regular basis to ensure they are in possession of the most up to date information.