Supporting inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream preschools
- The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM)
- Irish Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
- Country of Implementation
- Western Europe
- Start Year
- First published
“AIM is empowering providers to create nurturing and inclusive environments.” Teresa Heeney, CEO, Early Childhood Ireland
Launched in 2016, the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), a government initiative for children with a disability aged two years and eight months to five years and eight months, supports access to early childhood care and education. The model helps preschool providers to deliver an inclusive experience via applications for support, equipment, and grants filled out by preschool providers and parents. AIM offers seven levels of progressive support, from universal (for example, supporting an inclusive culture or providing information to parents) to highly targeted (such as assistive technology and therapy), based on the needs of the child and the preschool. Since 2016, over 5,000 children have received support.
Ireland introduced universal free preschool in 2010, an equivalent to kindergarten, but many children with disabilities could not access or participate meaningfully due to physical barriers and lack of resources and/or staff training.
Solution, Innovation and Impact
AIM is a nonbinding standard for early intervention service support. It is not embedded in legislation but works with the voluntary cooperation of early learning and care centres. The focus of AIM is on empowering preschools to build inclusive environments that understand the diverse needs of children, especially those with a disability. Preschools can apply, in agreement with parents, for seven different support measures, such as mentoring from a team of qualified access and inclusion specialists, support equipment and alteration grants, targeted therapy services, plus additional personnel in the classroom. The central government provides funding to government agencies to facilitate programme support. AIM also offers an early learning and care setting self-audit tool for preschools to help them determine their support needs. In addition to mainstream settings, preschool services are also offered in special preschools and early intervention classes that exclusively serve children with disabilities. In 2018, after two years of AIM, the proportion of children with disabilities participating in mainstream education had risen from 45 per cent to 65 per cent. Additionally, 78 per cent of parents reported their child had benefited from AIM and that it had made the culture at their preschool more inclusive In the 2018/19 academic year, 8,500 children received AIM support.
Funding, Outlook and Transferability
The 2019 AIM budget is €35 million and will be increased to €43 million in 2020. Spending is closely monitored by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. To enforce the model, compliance checks on the use of funds are being introduced from 2019 onwards, and a comprehensive evaluation of AIM will start in early 2020. Subject to the evaluation findings, First 5 (the 2018–2028 national strategy for babies, young children, and families) has committed to considering the extension of AIM, for example, to other age groups and/or to children with additional needs other than a disability.