Creches forced to turn away children with special needs
Survey shows difficulties getting therapy for children with autism and other disabilities
Irene Gunning, chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, said the survey results underline the need for investment in supports for children with special needs at pre-school level. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Many creches and pre-schools are struggling to provide early childhood care and education to children with special needs, according to a national survey to be published shortly.
The findings are contained in a survey of almost 400 creches which support more than 15,000 children. It was commissioned by Early Childhood Ireland, the main representative group for pre-school services.
Dozens of childcare providers say they have had to turn children with special needs away because they did not have timely access to care assistants, therapists or other specialised supports.
Other services said they have been frustrated over delays in accessing special needs assistants , therapists and other experts who can play a crucial role in providing early intervention for children with learning difficulties.
Of children with special needs, autism was the most common issue (60 per cent), followed by other learning disabilities, sensory disabilities, Down syndrome and physical disabilities.
The most frequently accessed specialised supports were special needs assistants, followed by speech and language specialists, occupations therapy and educational psychologists.
Funding for special needs assistants largely came from the Health Service Executive, followed by parents, Enable Ireland, childcare and educational services and the Department of Education.
The survey found that most pre-school services (85 per cent) have a policy on supporting children with additional needs. However 11 per cent said they have had to refuse a child with additional needs a place. The reasons cited included inability to meet the child’s needs; lack of specialised supports; or space shortages.
A total of 54 per cent of respondents said they operated a key worker system, in which a single member of staff liaised with family, team members and other services to facilitate information sharing.
Most providers said they needed better access to special needs assistants, training and funding for equipment.
One provider in Westmeath commented: “By the time we have assessed children, get appointments for them to be assessed; they are nearly ready to leave [for primary school].”
A private provider in Cork said: “The specialist help is fluffy, soft help. The diagnosticians do not have a detailed programme for the children. You really have to pin them down on this.”
The survey found evidence that, despite the challenges, practitioners tended to be resourceful when it came to caring and educating the children in their care in a way that is inclusive for everyone.
But the report’s authors warned that the climate for childcare services was tough, with increased administration, lower incomes, higher requirements from Government and diminishing supports for children with additional needs.
Irene Gunning, chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, said the survey results underline the need for investment in supports for children with special needs at pre-school level.