Donegal County Childcare Committee (DCCC) is this week inviting parents to contact the DCCC offices to get clarity on valid charges for pre-school education under the Free Pre-School Year.
It has again been brought to the attention of DCCC that parents of children in the free pre-school year are being charged for additional services marketed as a requirement of their child’s enrolment in the early childhood service and also for children with special educational needs.
DCCC is highlighting that some of these charges are breaching the early childhood services contractual agreement with the Childcare Directorate and are urging parents to access information from DCCC.
The Free Pre-school year, under the Governments Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, is a universal service for all children regardless of individual need or circumstance.
According to Donegal County Childcare’s latest census figures, over 2,500 children in Donegal participate in the ECCE scheme annually. The scheme is offered across over 150 community and privately managed early childhood services across the county.
Under the terms of the ECCE contract, participating service providers must provide the pre-school service free to parents.
An additional fee can only be charged as an ‘optional extra’ and this includes arrangements such as additional time outside the 3 hours per day or for activities which would generally not be regarded as a normal part of a pre-school service such as outings, food, dance or music sessions.
Under no circumstances can an additional charge be placed on a free pre-school place to facilitate a child with a disability or special educational need. As a rule, all additional extra notices to parents should carry an approval stamp from Donegal County Childcare.
Avril McMonagle, County Childcare Manager has condemned the behaviour of childcare services participating in this practice and said today: “It is damaging the reputation of all early childhood services – the majority it has to be said – who are compliant with the terms of their funding contract.
“Although I acknowledge that there are significant funding constraints on pre-school services and in particular inadequate capitation levels for children with special educational needs – the core of the problem will not be addressed by passing the charge on to parents.
“The Government claims to have provided a free pre-school year – if the sector cannot provide a free service to parents on the grant they receive, then they should voice this clearly to their public representatives who have a duty to bring this message to Government. The early childhood sector either locally or nationally has nothing to gain by sweeping this problem under the carpet.
“Parents, just because their child has additional needs or because their local pre-school has higher running costs than another should not be expected to pick up the tab for what is being extolled as a success story for all children and parents. Either it’s free or it is not – either it is universally available to all children equally or it’s not – simple as that.”
DCCC are urging parents to contact the office to speak with a Development Officer if they are unsure about any additional charges in relation to the free pre-school year on 074 9123442 , by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by accessing a range of information on the DCCC website www.donegalchildcare.com