What Types of Child Care Are Available?
Many child-care arrangements are available for children with special needs. Traditional child-care settings offer children with and without special needs the opportunity to learn and grow alongside each other. Specialized child-care settings cater exclusively to children with special needs. In-home or family day-care providers care for children with special needs in an informal, less structured environment. No matter which child-care setting you choose, you'll want to find a provider who offers high quality care.
Where to Find Care for a Child with Special Needs
Start out by contacting your local child-care resource and referral agency, which can put you in touch with child-care providers in your area. If you need help finding your local agency, visit the Child Care Aware website at www.childcareaware.org. You can also obtain referrals from your state's Council on Developmental Disabilities and Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency. For more information on these programs, visit The Administration for Children and Families website at www.acf.hhs.gov.
You may also want to get recommendations from other parents who have children with special needs, community agencies and support group members. And don't forget to investigate state-sponsored early childhood programs available in your community. These are often affiliated with local schools. Special education directors are a good resource if you want to locate state-funded respite programs (including programs available to preschoolers).
State-Sponsored Early Childhood Programs
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is designed to strengthen academic expectations and accountability for children with disabilities. Under IDEA, all children with disabilities are entitled to a "free and appropriate" public education.
IDEA calls for state-sponsored early childhood programs that require all eligible children to have a written plan that lists their goals and the types of services that are needed to reach those goals. Under IDEA, there are two different plans: (1) the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) and (2) the Individualized Education Program (IEP).
The IFSP is for infants and toddlers with disabilities from birth to age three. The IFSP must provide a service or family resource coordinator to parents who have children with special needs. This individual is usually part of an early intervention team. The coordinator will give you information about the types of programs and services available to your child.
The IEP is for children with disabilities age three and older (age 5 in some states). The IEP is an individualized plan that outlines the programs and services for which your child is eligible. These may include special education programs, support services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech pathology, and transportation. The IEP also formulates short- and long-term educational goals.
Tip: Keep in mind that full-time or part-time services and programs under IDEA may need to be supplemented with other child-care arrangements.
Tip: For more information on IDEA, visit the Department of Education's website at www.ed.gov.
Choosing the Right Child-Care Provider
Child Care and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
As you begin your search for a child-care provider, you should be aware of how the ADA impacts child care for children with special needs. The ADA is federal legislation that is designed to protect individuals with mental or physical disabilities from discrimination. Most public (e.g., Head Start programs) and private child-care providers must comply with the ADA. Under the ADA child-care providers must provide children with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in the child-care centers programs and services. Title III of the ADA, which governs private child-care providers, states that child-care centers:
- Cannot exclude children with disabilities from their programs unless their presence would pose a "direct threat to the health or safety of others" or require a fundamental alteration of the program
- Have to make reasonable modifications to their policies and practices to integrate children with disabilities (and their parents or guardians) into their programs unless doing so would constitute a fundamental alteration
- Must provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services needed for effective communication with children or adults with disabilities, when doing so would not constitute an undue burden
- Must generally make their facilities accessible to persons with disabilities
Tip: Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt from having to comply with the ADA
Tip: For more information on the ADA, visit the Department of Justice's website at www.ada.gov .
Questions to Ask
Before settling on a particular child-care provider, you'll want to speak to the director or provider in person. In addition to inquiring about availability, hours of operation, accessibility, and fees, you'll want to be sure to ask the following questions:
- What are your qualifications? Are you a licensed and/or accredited child-care provider? How long have you been in business? Do you have references?
- Do you have activities that are developmentally appropriate for my child's age and intellectual and physical ability?
- What is the staff/child ratio? Does the staff/child ratio allow for the individual attention necessary for children with special needs and the personnel necessary to deal with emergencies?
- Is the staff well trained in early childhood education and special needs? What about safety measures, such as CPR and first aid?
In addition, you may want to make plans to visit some child-care centers unannounced. This will give you a more accurate idea of how the center operates. During these unannounced visits you'll want to make the following observations:
- Is the child-care center clean?
- Are the toys and furniture all in working order?
- Do the children seem happy?
- Do the children seem well occupied?
Is Financial Assistance Available?
If you need help paying for child care, there are a variety of programs that offer financial assistance. For starters, contact the child-care agency that is responsible for subsidized child-care programs in your state. You'll be able to obtain information on the types of programs available, eligibility, and the application process.
In addition, your child may be eligible for the Head Start program in your community. Head Start is a federal program for preschoolers and their families with low incomes that provides developmental and social services, including education, health, and family needs assessments. For more information on Head Start, visit the Head Start Bureau Home Page at www.acf.hhs.gov.
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