Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says the Government needs to invest more money in training special needs assistants for pre-school pupils. The Department of Children has admitted that many children with special needs and disabilities are being denied access to suitable childcare because of a shortage of SNAs.
Deputy Smith commented, “The admission from the Department of Children about a lack of Special Needs Assistants comes as no surprise. Fianna Fáil has been consistently raising this issue for the past number of years. Despite this, successive Children’s Ministers have failed to take any action to improve the situation. Now it’s reached a stage whereby children with disabilities are unable to access pre-school care because of a shortage of SNAs.
“It is completely unacceptable that the Government has allowed this situation spiral to the extent to which vulnerable children are now being denied suitable pre-school care because of its failure to recruit and train Special Needs Assistants. We have already seen cuts to SNA allocations in the school system and now major problems are emerging in the pre-school sector.
“Despite repeated promises, Minister James Reilly has refused to publish a National Inclusion Plan for the early childhood sector for children with disabilities or special educational needs (SEN). Children with Special Needs are being denied their fundamental rights to pre-school, a vital stage in their early education and development.
“There is no specialised staff training or targeted supports for children with SEN. Either parents or service providers are expected to fund the additional cost of employing a special needs assistant as required. This acts as a barrier to entry to the universal free pre-school year for many children, especially those from less well-off backgrounds.
“Fianna Fáil has put forward comprehensive proposals to provide for the roll out of SNAs for the early education sector. We would establish a €10m fund, which would enable childcare providers access to SNAs, as well as putting in place up-skilling and training programmes for staff working with children with special needs.
“This Government has failed to take the necessary steps to improve special needs education at pre-school level. This is alienating special needs children from the early education they are entitled to. Minister Reilly cannot continue to stall on this issue. Thousands of children are already being failed by him and his Department. Urgent action is needed”.