Cork North West TD, Michael Creed has called for the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald T.D. to take responsibility for children with special needs who are currently being excluded from mainstream pre-schools. Speaking during a Dáil debate on Childcare, Deputy Creed said “it is an indictment of us all that we could table a motion and an amendment and discuss universality while locking the door on these children. It is also an indictment of the HSE to claim that there is no obligation”. During his speech Deputy Creed continued
“I refer to a response I received from the HSE in reply to representations I made about access for a child with autism to the ECCE year. The relevant section of the letter stated that on querying supports for children with special needs attending mainstream preschools under the scheme, the HSE was advised that there is no obligation for a service under the ECCE grant to take a child with special needs if it cannot provide supports. The letter stated that the preschool should have a meeting with the parent and child before enrolment to identify whether or not it will be able to meet the needs of the individual child. I regret to say that I have tried to pursue this issue with the Department which says that it is not its responsibility”.
“I have tried to pursue it with the HSE to be told that it is not its responsibility and that it is the responsibility of the contract holder to provide the service. I have tried to pursue it with the Department of Education and Skills which tells me it deals with children with disabilities, universal access for children to primary school and providing special needs assistant supports but that this is not its baby, to pardon the pun. In response to a parliamentary question on this issue, the Minister for Health said that “while the Health Service Executive has no statutory obligation to provide supports for children with special needs wishing to avail of the free pre-school year, it works at local level”, blah, blah, blah, ad hocery”.
“If we are to achieve anything in this debate, I implore the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to take a hold of the issue. Thousands of children and parents throughout the country are locked out of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, year. If we want a universal system, it must take account of such children and their needs. Like the Department of Education and Skills, the Minister should hold a little in reserve. We may not necessarily have the additional resources necessary, but she should hold a little in reserve and pay a higher capitation level to the individual contract holders under the ECCE scheme who will take on these children. They deserve the early childhood year as much as any other child. It is an indictment of us all that we could table a motion and an amendment and discuss universality while locking the door on these children. It is also an indictment of the HSE to claim that there is no obligation”.
“I congratulate the Minister. This is my first opportunity to discuss these issues since she became Minister. She has achieved much in a short time. I also acknowledge what has been achieved by others, but this is a glaring deficit. There is no universality if we lock the door on children with disabilities. I implore the Minister to take this issue on board”.