‘Equal Start’ launches to eradicate child poverty

by Rose Barrett
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The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman has today launched ‘Equal Start’ – a major new model of government-funded supports to ensure children experiencing disadvantage can access and meaningfully participate in early learning and childcare.

The new programmed 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, Also Traveller and 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 800 in the initial implementation phase – are settings, which been objectively identified as operating in the context of the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage.

Equal Start supports will include:  

  • a new Family Community Liaison role for settings and the development and rollout of an associated training programme;
  • funding and tailored supports for all children in Equal Start target groups;
  • funding for additional staff time for all Equal Start target settings;
  • funding for meals in Equal Start target settings;
  • roll out of Early Talk Boost to Equal Start target settings; and
  • a range of new and updated guidelines and training for all settings.

Equal Start supports will be fully rolled out in three phases over a five-year period, commencing from September with €4.5m allocated in 2024 (equivalent to €13.5m in a full year).

Settings to benefit from targeted supports will be notified in June. Settings must be in contract for Core Funding to be avail of the Equal Start priority designation and associated Equal Start supports.

Speaking at the launch,  Minister O’Gorman said: “Disadvantage early in life pose multiple risks to children’s development and can have long-term impacts on their life chances. The lasting impact of early disadvantage can be seen in inter-generational cycles of poverty and social exclusion.

“We all know that high quality early learning and care and school-age childcare services have an important role to play in children’s development and in helping to break these inter-generational cycles.

“From September, all children and all settings will start to benefit from Equal Start, with targeted supports for specific cohorts of children and for settings that are operating in the context of concentrated disadvantage – with up to 800 settings currently supporting more than 35,000 children expected to benefit in the initial phase of implementation.”

Also speaking at the launch today, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said:

“The evidence is clear. The most important investment the country can make to break the cycle of child poverty is to start early with a DEIS type model for early years. Generations of children will have better life chances once this new Equal Start model is established.

This Government and future governments will need to invest significantly to ensure that as many children in poverty can benefit. The Equal Start model is the potential game changer that we need.”

Photo Julien Behal

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