Policy in Action 28 May 2024

Policy in Action 28 May 2024

Last week, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, launched Equal Start. The launch was attended by Early Childhood Ireland representatives, and there was much interest in Equal Start and what it will mean for children’s access to high quality Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC).

Equal Start

Equal Start is a funding model and a set of associated universal and targeted measures to support access and participation in EY and SAC for children and their families who experience disadvantage.

It is the fourth element of Together for Better, the funding model for EY and SAC, which currently comprises the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, including the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) and Core Funding.

Equal Start consists of a series of measures to support children, settings and families. The goals of the Equal Start are that:

  • All children, in particular children experiencing disadvantage, have equitable access and participation in EY and SAC settings.
  • All EY and SAC settings, in particular settings operating in the context of concentrated disadvantage, equitably promote the early years education of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Parents and families, in particular parents and families experiencing disadvantage, are empowered with the knowledge, tools and supports necessary for children to have equitable access and participation in EY and SAC.

Equal Start will adopt a tiered approach, which incorporates universal supports, child-targeted supports and setting-targeted supports. More detailed information is available in the Equal Start Model of Supports Document.

Equal Start will work alongside AIM, which supports children to engage fully in the ECCE programme. AIM expansion will begin from September 2024, when AIM will support children from outside the ECCE programme.

In addition to actions under Strands 1 to 3, consideration will be given to further developments of Equal Start over the coming years. Further research and consultation will inform consideration of:

  • Exceptional needs funding – the need for an additional, application-based funding stream will be assessed after the initial implementation of Equal Start.
  • Family and Early Childhood Centres – in line with First 5, consideration will be given to development of a new model of local early childhood hubs to bring together a range of services to support parents and children, drawing on national and international experience.
  • Transport – some transport for EY and SAC settings is already subsidised through the National Childcare Scheme, and Measure D of Equal Start will include support for transport. Further consideration will be given to future development of additional support.
  • Review of professions required to work in EY and SAC settings – a review will be undertaken of professional roles that might be needed in EY and SAC, particularly in areas of concentrated disadvantage, to support children’s access, participation and development.
Our work and Equal Start

Early Childhood Ireland staff and many of our members were involved in the consultations to inform the development of Equal Start. The organisation, for many years, has advocated for a universal EY and SAC system, to which all children have equitable access. We will carefully monitor the implementation of Equal Start including our members experience of engaging with and delivering it.

Conclusion

You can read the full details of Equal Start on the DCEDIY website. You can find out more about our work by contacting us at [email protected].

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