Children with disabilities missing out on pre-school
Access to the free pre-school year for children with special needs has been described as "inconsistent" and "not satisfactory" by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Up to 65,000 children are eligible for the current pre-school year but parents and childcare providers say many are losing out because they do not have vital pre-school assistants.
But without a pre-school assistant, some parents say their children would be unable to avail of the scheme.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has acknowledged that the current co-ordination and provision of supports for children with special needs is "not satisfactory".
It confirmed that improving the situation is a "priority" and is working with other departments to find a solution.
Early Childhood Ireland chief executive Teresa Heeney said the move is welcome, but warned: "A solution cannot wait until a medical model is available where there are enough speech therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, etc, in place to ensure that all assessments are completed before a child enters a free pre-school year."
Bernie Coghlan's son James (4) has autism and is nearing the end of his first year in pre-school. She says he "could not possibly go into pre-school without an assistant because he is non-verbal".
The mother from Carlanstown in Co Meath said: "While he is saying some words, he does not have the level of communication and he doesn't have the level of awareness, or social interaction that a lot of his peers would have. His assistant provides him with the opportunity to integrate himself into that environment."
Tanya Malone from Caulstown, Co Meath, said her daughter Beth (4), who has cerebral palsy, has also thrived as result of having a pre-school assistant.
"Beth only receives six hours a week so (although) she is in school Monday to Friday, she only has an SNA Thursday and Friday, which is really hard for a child with cerebral palsy.
"Her fine motor skills are not there and only for her SNA for those six hours a week she wouldn't be half the child she is now. "
Bernie and Tanya are supporting the Meath Fight for the Future campaign to get access to pre-school for children with special needs.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (CYA) confirmed it has agreed with counterparts in the Departments of Health,and Education and Skills, to seek a solution.