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Early Childhood Care and Education scheme discriminating against some children – Ó Caoláin

4 February, 2010 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Sinn Féin Health and Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has called on the Minister of State for Children as a matter of urgency to reform the regulations regarding age qualification for the free pre-school year in Early Childhood Care and Education since the regulations as currently framed create an 'age gap' which discriminates against some children who will not be able to avail of this scheme in advance of commencing primary school education.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening Deputy Ó Caoláin saidL

“I was prompted to bring forward the issue by a constituent who is a low-paid worker, with four children, two of them twins under four. My constituent was looking forward to availing of the free pre-school year for her twin children beginning in September 2010. She is now bitterly disappointed to find that because those two children will not reach the age of three until July, they will not qualify for the pre-school year in September 2010. She has been told that they would only be able to begin their pre-school year in September 2011. By that time, of course, they will be of an age to attend primary school.

“I have no doubt that this is not an isolated case. The same flaw in the regulations must affect thousands of children. There is and will be widespread frustration with the manner in which the free pre-school year in Early Childhood Care and Education has been established and implemented.

“The rules as currently laid down are discriminating against children who should qualify for this scheme and this is causing deep disappointment to their parents who expected to be able to avail of the scheme.

“Because the rules of the scheme state that to qualify for places in September 2010, children must be born on or after 2 February 2006 or on or before 30 June 2007, these children have been refused places for this coming September. You can imagine the disappointment of their parents, both low-paid workers struggling to raise their children. Their mother’s plea to ‘please give me some incentive to go to work’ speaks volumes.

“Clearly children should automatically qualify for the free pre-school year once they become three years of age and arrangements should be made to allow them to enrol.

“Surely flexibility could be introduced into the system to allow children to start when they are three. Even if they are not able to avail of the full year they could avail of part of it and this would still be of educational value to the children and of great assistance to their parents.

“I urge the Minister of State to change these inflexible and unfair rules and ensure that all children are treated equally.” ENDS

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