All children have special needs. However, some children, because of physical, emotional, or learning needs, may require extra support in the child care setting. It is very important to choose child care that meets your basic requirements first—then address your child’s unique needs with the provider.
Things to consider
- If a child care provider has never cared for a child with special needs, he may be fearful or uncomfortable until he gets to know your child. You are the most knowledgeable person about your child’s needs, so it is important for you to share with the provider information and ideas that you have found work best.
- Children often act differently in the child care setting than at home, so don’t be surprised if your suggestions don’t always work out.
- Caring for a child with special needs is a partnership among the family, child care providers, and any specialists involved.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires child care programs to make “reasonable” efforts to accommodate a child with a disability.
There are other resources that can help you. Family resource centers provide parent-to-parent support and training. Regional centers link families of children ages birth to three years who have or are at risk of developmental disabilities to early intervention programs in each county. You can call 1-800-515-BABY to get the number of your local family resource center or regional center.
Children ages birth to three who qualify for early intervention services receive an individualized family service plan (IFSP). The IFSP identifies the special services and who will provide them. Once your child turns three, if he is eligible for special services, such as speech therapy, they are provided by the school district through an individualized education program (IEP). These plans describe the goals for your child and the services to help meet them.
Finding child care
Some child care resource and referral agencies match families with caregivers who specialize in working with children with special needs. Call the child care provider and ask about policies, fees, schedules, and activities to determine if this setting is a good fit for your child before discussing the disability. AFTER you feel comfortable with a provider, let her know about your child’s special needs in a way that is nonthreatening and supportive. This lets the child care provider know that you are concerned with her skill and ability to help your child and you will provide her with the necessary resources, training, and support to care to care for your child’s special needs.
If you feel that a child care program is discriminating against your child because of her disability, you can get legal advice from the Child Care Law Center at 415-394-7144.
Choosing special needs care
When choosing child care for a child with special needs:
- Interview caregivers as you would for any child.
- Ask for references and check them out.
- Visit without your child first. Make sure you are comfortable with the type of care provided.
- Then bring your child to the child care setting and observe how she reacts or adjusts to the staff, the materials, and the other children.
- When you are ready, start your child’s care for an hour or so, gradually increasing the time until he gets used to the provider and the provider is secure in meeting his needs.
Children with special needs require different levels of support and care. The willingness and openness of the provider to work with specialists in coordination and partnership with the family is crucial in providing high-quality child care for your child.
In your search for quality child care, the following checklists may be helpful:
- Has special training, skills, or experience with children with special needs.
- Works as a team member with family and specialists.
- Communicates regularly about the child’s development and any concerns as they arise.
- Maintains confidentiality and with your permission answers questions regarding the child’s special needs.
- Has a system to record medication, special feedings, or other procedures.
- Facility is accessible and safe for the child, accommodates adaptive equipment (e.g., wheelchairs, walkers).
- Toys and play materials are within the child’s reach.
- There are enough adults present to meet children’s individual needs.
- The overall group size is not too large to be overwhelming for the child.
- The environment does not create too much or too little stimulation for the child.
- Provide caregiver adequate training for special procedures (e.g., nebulizer, g-tube feeding, finger-prick testing).
- Photocopy written information about the child’s special needs for the provider.
- Invite the child care provider to the IEP or IFSP meetings.
- Request consultation with the child care program be written into the IEP or IFSP.
- Plan a method of communication among the family, the child care provider, and any specialists the child sees.