This document is intended as a brief guide for parents in relation to the operation of the Free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme.
What is the free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education? The ECCE programme is designed to give children access to a free pre-school year of appropriate programme-based activities in the year before they start primary school. Participation in a pre-school programme provides children with their first formal experience of early learning, the starting-point of their educational and social development outside the home. Children who avail of pre-school are more likely to be ready for school and a formal learning and social environment. In general, each eligible child is entitled to one free pre-school year. Certain children with special needs may avail of a pro-rata provision over two years, provided they fulfil certain conditions (please see the section ‘Children with special needs’ below.)
When will my child be eligible to participate in the ECCE programme? Childcare services participating in the programme are required to provide age-appropriate activities and programmes to children within a particular age cohort, and therefore it is necessary to set minimum and maximum limits to the age range for qualifying children. The ECCE programme is open to all children aged between 3 years 2 months and 4 years 7 months on 1st September each year.
Are there any exceptions to the age-related eligibility rule? There are no exceptions to the lower age limit. The upper age limit of 4 years 6 months may be extended where a child is not in a position to commence primary school until s/he is more than 5 years 6 months of age, due either to the enrolment policy of the local school, or because s/he has been assessed as developmentally delayed. Applications for an extension of the upper age limit will be examined on a case-by-case basis. Please note that under the Education and Welfare Act 2000 all children must be enrolled in a primary school by the time they reach their 6th birthday.
Where can I enrol my child for the free pre-school year? There are nearly 5,000 pre-school services notified to the Health Service Executive or registered with the Irish Montessori Educational Board. All of these services are eligible to apply to participate in the ECCE programme. A list of participating pre-school services is available from Laois County Childcare Committee or by downloading a copy of our directory of service from this website.Parents can contact participating services in their area to arrange to enrol their child.
How is the Pre-School Year funded? Pre-School services participating in the programme are paid a capitation fee for each qualifying child enrolled. Pre-school services are required to notify the Department of the details of each child enrolled in the programme, so you will be asked by the pre-school service in which your child is enrolled to complete a form which includes your child’s date of birth and Personal Public Service Number (PPSN). You may also be asked to provide documentary evidence of these details (a copy of the child’s birth certificate or passport, and a copy of official proof of the child’s PPSN which can taken the form of a copy of an official document or card showing the child’s name and PPSN, e.g. a Drug Payment Scheme card, a Medical Card, or a letter from the Department of Social Protection). In return, the service is required to provide an appropriate programme of activities in early childhood care and education free to parents.
Will parents have to pay additional charges in respect of the Pre-School Year? Services participating in the programme must provide the pre-school year free to parents. However, a service may charge parents for additional services as long as (a) the services are provided on an optional basis and (b) appropriate programme-based activities are provided to any children not participating in an optional activity. Optional additional services can take the form of various activities or services such as outings, specific teaching resources such as dance or music, and food, but should not include activities which would generally be regarded as a normal part of a pre-school service, e.g. general arts and crafts activities. Services may also charge for any additional hours outside of the free pre-school provision. Additional services or additional hours must be offered to parents on a purely optional basis and take-up of these options must not a condition (real or implied) of enrolment in the pre-school service.
The Department of Children and Youth affairs also provide the Community Employment and Training Scheme (CETS). The CETS scheme provides Childcare for children whose parents are participating in Solas (FAS) or ETB (VEC) training programmes. The VEC/FAS trainee will be given a letter by the relevant agency confirming their entitlement and a list of participating services locally. Night courses, on-line courses and PLC courses do not qualify for CETS. Parents should contact Laois County Childcare Committee to avail of a place. Places on the scheme are limited and are currently offered on a first come basis. Once a CETS place is approved parents must complete and sign a parent declaration form supplied with proof of PPS numbers to Laois County Childcare Committee. A weekly sign in sheet must be signed by parents. On the CETS scheme parents may be asked to pay a top up.
Additional school age places were created in 2013 for parents in receipt of a social welfare payment and are availing of an employment opportunity (eligibility criteria will be determined by the Department of Social Protection.
Parents on community employment (CE) are now eligible to avail of the CETS Scheme.
Attached please find Information on CETS for CE Participants http://www.wccc.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/CETS-Leaflet.pdf
The third of the major childcare funding schemes is the Community Childcare Subvention Programme (CCS). This scheme allows community based childcare providers to offer reduced rates to parents that are in receipt of a social welfare payment, low paid employment or in education. In order to avail of a place on the CCS scheme parents must contact their local community based childcare provider and book their child into the service. (Parents may be asked for proof of social welfare entitlement). Children must be enrolled in a community service in September each year to guarantee a CCS place. Both the parent’s own and their child’s Personal Public Service Number (PPSN) will be required in October when the Parent Declaration form is being completed. The fee which a parent will pay will be the cost price of the place as advertised by the service less the relevant subvention amount. For information on the weekly subvention rates for Band A, AJ or B, based on the type of service the child is availing of please follow this link:
For further information on any of the above schemes please contact Laois County Childcare Committee on 057-86 61029