Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has today announced details of €13.5 million in additional funding for Equal Start – the major new model of Government-funded supports to ensure children experiencing disadvantage can access and meaningfully participate in early learning and childcare.

Equal Start will include a suite of universal supports, child-targeted supports and setting-targeted supports to ensure every child and every early learning and childcare setting will benefit from a continuum of supports that reflects a continuum of need.

Children to benefit from child-targeted supports will include children living in disadvantaged areas, Traveller children, Roma children, children availing of the National Childcare Scheme through a sponsor body, children experiencing homelessness and children in the International Protection system.

Settings to benefit from setting-targeted supports – approximately 750 are settings, which have been objectively identified as operating in the context of the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage.

The majority of additional funding for Equal Start for the first programme year – over €11 million – will be allocated to these targeted settings to fund additional staff hours that can be used to support engagement between the settings and families, engagement between the settings and other child and family support services, training in inclusive practices and to support other educators and practitioners in the provision of early learning and childcare to children with higher levels of need.

There will be two tiers of support depending on the levels of disadvantage within the setting:

• around 300 “Tier 1” settings serving 12,500 children will receive funding to support a 15% increase staffing hours

• around 450 “Tier 2” settings serving 22,000 children will receive funding to support an 8% increase staffing hours

The settings that have been objectively identified as operating in the context of the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage will be notified in the coming weeks if they have been designated as Tier 1 or Tier 2 settings. Settings must be in contract for Core Funding in the coming programme year to benefit from these setting-targeted supports.

The remaining funding available for Equal Start in the first programme year will support the following:

• Appointment of six Family Link Workers to support the full roll out of the Traveller Parenting Support Programme to all 17 Tusla areas, with new responsibilities on Family Link Workers to engage with Traveller parents of children aged 1-5 years, supporting them to attend and participate in early learning and childcare, avail of the ECCE programme and where applicable applying for the NCS.

• Appointment of a Traveller and Roma Advisory Specialists to work in Better Start

• Review and updating of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Guidelines and associated training

• Review of the current Inclusion Co-ordinator role and updating of Leadership for Inclusion Programme

• Development of a new Family Community Liaison role and development and rollout of associated training programme

• Roll-out of Early Talk Boost to Equal Start target settings

• Roll-out of Meitheal training and engagement by early years educators and school-age childcare practitioners in Meitheal

• Development and roll out of Communications and Engagement Plan

• Development of a new strand of funding under the existing Case Management Process for critical incidents

• Roll-out Equal Start literacy and numeracy initiatives under the National Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Minister O’Gorman said:

“This is the first step towards major enhancements to how we support children and families experiencing disadvantage and the settings that serve them. I am committed, as is this Government, to alleviating child poverty and breaking cycles of disadvantage and this is a key component of our response to that commitment”.

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