Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE)
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age.
Children can start ECCE when they are 2 years and 8 months of age and continue until they transfer to primary school (provided that they are not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the pre-school year) - see 'Is my child eligible for ECCE' below.
The State pays participating playschools and daycare services a set amount per child for the ECCE service. In return, participating centres and playschools provide a pre-school service free of charge to all children within the qualifying age range. The service is for a set number of hours over a set period of weeks see ‘How the ECCE scheme is provided’ below.
You may get financial support from the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) towards the cost of childcare for the hours spent outside of ECCE.
Your child cannot be enrolled in the ECCE Programme and Early Start Programme at the same time.
Is my child eligible for ECCE?
Eligible age range
The programme is available to children who have turned 2 years and 8 months of age before 1 September. Children can continue in the programme until they transfer to primary school if they are not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the pre-school year on 30 June.
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) has an eligibility calendar showing when your child can participate in the ECCE programme.
Exemptions from age limit
If your child has special needs they may get an exemption from the ECCE upper age limit. For more information and to apply for an exemption contact EYQueries@equality.gov.ie.
There are no exemptions to the lower age limit.
How the ECCE scheme is provided
The childcare provider must provide ECCE for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week for 38 weeks a year.
If your child attends a half-day or “sessional” service, such as a playschool, naíonra, Montessori or parent and toddler group, the normal pattern for the free ECCE scheme school year is 3 hours a day for 5 days a week over the school year. If your child attends for more than this, you will be charged for the extra time.
A small number of sessional services that cannot open for 5 days a week provide 3 hours and 30 minutes a day for 4 days a week over the school year. This only applies to services which have already been granted permission.
For full-time or part-time daycare services, the normal pattern for the free ECCE scheme is 3 hours per day for 5 days a week. If your child attends for longer than this each day, you will be charged for the extra time.
If your child does not attend
Your child may lose their ECCE place, if they have not attended ECCE for 4 consecutive weeks. In special circumstances, a child can keep their place if they are absent for more than 4 consecutive weeks. For example, in the case of a prolonged illness a place can be kept for up to 12 weeks. A place may be kept for up to 6 weeks in the case of a bereavement.
Content and quality of service
Childcare services taking part in the ECCE scheme must provide an appropriate pre-school educational programme which adheres to the principles of Síolta and Aistear, the national frameworks for early years care and education. Síolta co-ordinators and staff of the local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) will support participating services with assistive visits and advice.
The website of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has further information on the ECCE scheme.
Children with special needs
The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) supports children with disabilities to access the ECCE programme. The model is based on the needs of the child and does not require a diagnosis of disability.
AIM has 7 levels of support, moving from universal to targeted support depending on the needs of the child and the pre-school provider. The model offers tailored, practical supports based on a child’s needs.
All children can access Levels 1 – 3 of the model. These involve a suite of universal supports which are designed to promote and support an inclusive culture within pre-school settings by means of educational and capacity-building initiatives for providers and practitioners.
Where a pre-school service provider, along with the parent, considers that additional support may be necessary to meet a child’s needs, they can apply for one or more additional targeted supports under levels 4 – 7 of the model.
Additional targeted supports may include:
- Expert educational advice and mentoring – Level 4
- Specialised equipment, appliances and minor alterations – Level 5
- Therapeutic supports – Level 6
- Additional capitation to fund extra assistance in the ECCE pre-school room – level 7.
When you have identified a pre-school for your child, your service provider, in consultation with you, will consider what supports may be needed to ensure your child’s participation in pre-school.
Where it is considered that your child needs additional support, your pre-school service provider can apply, in partnership with you, for targeted supports under AIM.
The AIM website provides information for parents and Frequently Asked Questions on supports available. Your local City or County Childcare Committee will also be able to provide you with information and guidance on AIM.
Is there a charge for ECCE?
There is no charge to parents for the playschool or daycare hours provided under the ECCE scheme. The Department pays the playschool or daycare service to provide these ECCE hours. However, if your child attends for extra hours, you will have to pay for these extra hours in the normal way.
A service may charge parents for extra activities. However, these must be optional and the service must provide other appropriate activities to children who don’t take part in the optional activity being charged for.
The service may ask you for a booking deposit, which cannot be more than 4 weeks of ECCE capitation payments. Any deposit you pay must be repaid to you by the end of October of the year your child starts.
Rates for service providers
For providers of daycare and sessional services, the Department pays a weekly fee for each child over the school year. Daycare and sessional playschools with more highly qualified staff may be able to qualify for a higher fee.
How to apply for ECCE
To get a place for your child, apply to a participating playschool or daycare centre. You can get a list of participating services from your local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC) – see ‘Where to apply’ below.
You will need to provide a copy of your child's birth certificate or passport and PPS number.
Supports for children with special needs
If your child needs additional support, your pre-school provider can apply, in partnership with you, for targeted supports under AIM. Applications are made through the Programmes Implementation Platform (PIP) on the Pobal website. Your pre-school service provider will be familiar with the Pobal website and with PIP.
The application process is open and will remain open throughout the year.
Applications can only be made with your full consent.
For advice and support from the Early Years Specialist Service (Access and Inclusion) contact (01) 511 7222 or e-mail: Onlinesupport@pobal.ie
Where to apply for ECCE
To find a childcare provider near you, contact your local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC).
You can get the list of contracted childcare providers.
Applications are made via the Programmes Implementation Platform (PIP) on the Pobal website. Your service provider will be familiar with the Pobal website and with PIP.