Thursday 8 December 2016

Up to 6,000 children with special needs to receive more support at free preschools

Published 15/06/2016 | 10:19

Katherine Zappone Photo: Tom Burke
Katherine Zappone Photo: Tom Burke

Up to 6,000 children with special needs will receive more support at free preschools to make access to education easier for children with disabilities.

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The new €50m programme announced today by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone will allow parents and preschools to apply for disability support in preparation for September.

Zappone told Newstalk Breakfast that it was “a good day for children with disabilities” as she announced the programme.

“This new programme effectively opens up preschool to children with disabilities and we hope that it will have the potential to benefit up to 6,000 children over a number of years,” she said.

Zappone said the programme offers parents and preschool providers a range of new supports such as staff training, grants for equipment, mentors with expertise in working with children with disabilities and therapeutic services. It also aims to reduce child-staff ratios.

She said that one of the “key aspects” of the programme is to create a “more inclusive culture for everyone”.

A new website will be launched today where parents and education providers can get information on how to apply for supports for children with disabilities so that they can be “confident that he/she can learn better”.

The state funded pre-schools will receive €50m in investment by the end of 2016 and a further €18m in 2017.

The new scheme opens on June 24 and parents and preschool providers can visit www.preschoolaccess.ie later today.

The new programme comes as thousands of children are losing out because of barriers to education and a lack of support offered to children with disabilities.

Earlier this month, Genevieve Fagan, a mother of a ten-year-old girl with autism, told independent.ie that she was devastated by the lack of support available to her daughter.

Read more: 'I feel she's slipping further away from us' - Mum of girl (10) with autism left heartbroken as child's speech deteriorates

Fagan said that the scarcity of speech and language therapists across the country left her daughter unable to communicate, which can leave her frustrated and prone to aggressive outbursts.

Recent HSE figures show that 8,580 people are waiting for initial speech and language treatment across the country.

Meanwhile, figures for those seeking an initial assessment with a speech and language therapist paint an equally bleak picture - with over 13,380 people countrywide languishing on waiting lists.

Zappone also called for “a significant culture change” in regards to the 8th Amendment of the constitution that protects the life of an unborn child.

“We need as a Government to respond to the UN committees’ recommendations to provide women with support … and to change our laws. We have an obligation to listen and to respond to the UN committee.”

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