Sugden: ‘positive outcome’ from the Early Years campaign.

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East Londonderry MLA Claire Sugden has welcomed the decision to allow Early Years groups across Northern Ireland to continue until March 2016.

Sugden told The Times: “Sixteen of these groups are in my constituency.

“I have been working closely with them on this issue for a number of months, culminating in my presenting a 14,000 signature petition to the NI Assembly in June.

“The announcement that groups can continue to provide services will be a great relief. This a good news story and a positive outcome from the hard work that we have consistently put in since March 2015.

“The £1.1 Million will fund groups between August 2015 and April 2016 when it is the Minister’s intention to introduce a new open Pathway Fund as a replacement.

“The Minister’s understanding of Early Years provision as simply childcare has been a concern, and I have been approached by groups who fear that the new Pathway Fund will not cover services for children aged 0-3.

“The Department must do a thorough scoping study, involving discussions with current Early Years groups, to ensure that any new fund provides for the needs of the whole Early Years Sector. I will continue to raise this with him.

“My hope now is that the work we have put in to build an awareness of the positive impacts of the Early Years Sector will result in a new fund which is informed and inclusive.”