ItemChildLinks Issue 3: Children with Additional Needs in Early Years Services(Barnardos, 2012) BarnardosThis edition of ChildLinks focuses on exploring the theme of how early childhood care and education (ECCE) provides for children with additional needs1. Children with disabilities do at least as well, developmentally, in good quality inclusive early education and care settings, with supports, as they do in segregated specialist settings. They make more gains in terms of social and behavioural outcomes. That was the conclusion of a briefing paper, recently published by the National Disability Authority (NDA), which reviewed research evidence and international practice in relation to children with disabilities in mainstream pre-schools. Another finding was that children without disabilities do no worse in inclusive settings and, not surprisingly, they score higher on tests relating to acceptance of people with disabilities. As the Director of the NDA Siobhan Barron concludes in her article, inclusion of pre-school children with disabilities will require a focus on quality in ECCE provision, a policy of inclusive practice in mainstream ECCE settings and disability support services supporting mainstream ECCE settings to support and include children in these settings. What infrastructure and what extra resources are necessary to ensure that children with additional needs do well? The other articles in ChildLinks explore some of the key issues including co-ordination and transition arrangements, strategies which work for children who have special needs, and identification and dissemination of best practice. According to Early Childhood Ireland, 71% of ECCE providers have at least one child with additional needs in their service. Early Childhood Ireland highlight the challenges involved in providing a quality service for children with additional needs including the increase in the adult: child ratios in 2012, inadequate specialist supports including assessment and the lack of funding for accredited training or continuing professional development specific to this area of work. It would appear that notwithstanding the encouraging research findings and the commitment by many in the ECCE and disability sectors, Ireland has a long way to go to achieve quality, inclusive ECCE provision which achieves positive outcomes for children with additional needs. ItemChildLinks Issue 2: Infant Mental Health(Barnardos, 2012) BarnardosIn the 50 years that Barnardos has been working with children in Ireland, the country has been through many changes. Since 1962, everything from our landscape, to the food we eat and the way we live our lives, has changed gradually; each change reflecting the journey we’ve been on and the attitudes we’ve accumulated along the way. Little else in recent years has been so reflective of how much we’ve changed than the passing of the Children’s Referendum. Saturday 10 November 2012 is a date that we should all remember, one that will no doubt be reported in history books in years to come. It is the day when we said we will never again allow the kind of failures that saw so many children suffer in silence for so long. It is not an exaggeration to say that this marks a new beginning for Ireland’s children. They are no longer unseen and unheard in our Constitution. They are now placed exactly where they belong: in the very heart of our law and our society. Article 42A represents a bedrock for building a better child welfare and protection system. It is a blueprint for better laws and policies that will mean children are heard, that their best interests are prioritised and that we create better structures and services for meeting their needs. Now that we’ve laid our foundation, it is critical that we don’t delay in constructing the elements that will improve outcomes for vulnerable children across Ireland. Key to this is the Child and Family Support Agency, which is due to come into operation in 2013. After the referendum, this Agency is the greatest hope for better child welfare and protection services in Ireland. For the first time, we will have a body whose sole remit is to deliver services to children and their families to ensure that all children have a chance to grow up safe and happy. It is an opportunity that we cannot afford to waste. The people of Ireland have given a clear statement of how much the protection of children matters and is it incumbent on all of us in a position to deliver on the commitment laid out in Article 42A to make better provision a reality. This is especially true for Government. As we approach another budget, undoubtedly another harsh budget, it is critical that the Child and Family Support Agency is set up with the full remit it needs to meet vulnerable children’s needs, across the full spectrum of prevention, early intervention and crisis services. And it is fundamental to the success of the Agency that it is given the resources to do this. We have proven what we can do when we decide that children really matter. Now we need to put it into practice. ItemChildLinks Issue 1: Men in Early Childhood Care and Education(Barnardos, 2012) BarnardosWelcome to the autumn edition of ChildLinks which explores the theme of men in early childhood care and education. ‘What men?’, you may ask. Our experience of finding men who worked in early childhood care and education (ECCE) who might contribute an article for this ChildLinks proved very challenging. And that is supported by the research in Ireland and internationally. Men are an absent minority in ECCE in Ireland, estimated to be less than 1% of the workforce. One of the recurring arguments in support of more men in childcare is the ‘men as role models’ argument, that men provide role models for children, especially boys. However, as Aoife O’Gorman outlines in her article, this is a contested area. One view is that the presence of male early years workers acts in some way to compensate for what is lacking at home, especially where the father is absent. But what is lacking at home and how does compensation occur? O’Gorman suggests that a more constructive approach might be to focus less on the role model perspective and more on providing all children with opportunities to relate to a diverse range of adults and children. Many of the barriers to male participation in the ECCE workforce are also discussed in this issue, including perceptions by service providers, perceptions by men and perceptions by parents. The issue of parents’ concern regarding intimate care and the fear of child sexual abuse cannot be ignored. The perception that women are more suited to caring for young children than men is undoubtedly linked to the complex nature of gender in caring roles and to societal perceptions and norms. Does it matter that the ECCE workforce in Ireland is almost totally female? The EU seems to think so. EU policy is 20% in 2020, i.e. a 20% male workforce by 2020. The Men in Childcare Network is to be congratulated for their work in researching, providing support and advocating for greater participation in the ECCE workforce. Undoubtedly the thorny issue of poor remuneration will have to be addressed if Ireland is to move towards the 20% target. And remuneration is important to attract and retain both men and women to careers in early childhood care and education.