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Written Answers - Preschool Services

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 208.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue  asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in view of Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  the positive comments in the Children’s Rights Alliance’s Report Card 2012 regarding the Government’s record on early childhood care and education, he will extend the early childhood year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7316/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme was introduced in January 2010 and provides a free pre-school year to all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school. I very much welcome the positive assessment of the ongoing developments in the early childhood care and education sector by the Children’s Rights Alliance. Their Report recognises in particular the significant commitment made by this Government to maintaining the necessary and [200]substantial funding to ensure that the free universal pre-school year continues to be implemented.

In 2011, the ECCE programme cost approximately €163 million. Additional funding has been made available for 2012 when the cost of the programme is expected to rise to €175 million due to changes in demographics.

The Children’s Rights Alliance Report also recognises the significant steps taken in relation to the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy and I will continue to collaborate closely with my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, in implementing this Strategy. Early intervention is crucial and the Strategy provides for a range of actions to support pre-school children and their families, to be undertaken by my Department.

I am aware of the need to further develop the early childhood care and education sector and it is my view that it would be extremely helpful to many children if I could extend the free pre-school provision to a second year. This would be particularly beneficial for children with special needs who currently can avail of the pre-school year on a pro-rata basis over two years and I would like to be in a position to deliver on this. However, this development would require considerable additional funding and given the financial constraints under which the Government is currently operating it is not possible to provide for any enhancements to the programme at this time.

However future developments relating to early years care and education will be considered during preparation of the new National Early Years Strategy 2012.

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