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Article of Interest - Child Care

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Special Needs for School-Age Children: Child Care for Children with Special Needs
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Things to consider when choosing child care for your child with special needs.

  • Is a special license required to care for children with special needs?

  • What are my rights and what are the responsibilities of the child care program and provider?

  • How do I choose child care for my child with special needs?

  • Helping the provider get ready

  • Helping your child and family get ready

  • Keep in touch with your provider

Choosing child care is a very important decision for you and your child. It is important for any parent or guardian, but because your child has special needs, you may need to find a child care provider who has special skills or qualities.

Special needs are often grouped by category or by disability, such as developmental delays or physical disabilities. In this booklet, "special needs" is defined as any type of need a child may have, temporarily or permanently, that is beyond the range of needs typically provided for in a child care setting.

Is a special license required to care for children with special needs?
Each state has its own licensing requirements for child care, with rules about group size, the number of children per caregiver, training, and other factors that affect child care quality and safety.

There are no special licensing requirements to care for children with special needs, although the individual needs of a child may require certain skills or training. A child care program's group size requirements do not change, but depending on the level of care required by a child, a smaller group size may be more appropriate. A quality program will try to make the necessary arrangements and provide the resources to meet the needs of each child.

What are my rights and what are the responsibilities of the child care program and provider?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that child care programs cannot discriminate against individuals because of a disability. It applies to all public nursery/preschools, child care centers, and family child care homes, including programs renting space in a religious facility. Only child care programs operated by religious organizations are exempt. Such programs, however, are covered by laws similar to the ADA in some states.

The ADA requires child care programs to take "readily achievable" steps to remove architectural barriers in the center or home. "Readily achievable" means without much difficulty or expense. This might mean lowering coat hooks for a child using a wheelchair, building a ramp, or screening off part of a bathroom to provide privacy for the diapering needs of an older child.

Child care providers are also required to make reasonable modifications to their programs to accommodate each child's individual needs, such as offering developmentally appropriate activities and providing additional supervision when necessary.

The ADA states that child care programs cannot:

Charge a higher rate for a child with special needs, but may charge for "extra services" provided to a child with special needs that are not within the range of care provided by that program. (Examples of extra services would be speech/language therapy or occupational/physical therapy.)

  • Deny admission to a child with special needs because of an increase in the program's insurance rates or cancellation of coverage.

  • Deny services to a child with special needs even if a program for children with the same disability is available in the community.

  • Exclude a child due to lack of staff training if training is readily available at a reasonable cost.

The ADA does permit child care programs to deny services to a child with special needs if:

Necessary changes are too costly or difficult given the resources available to the individual program. (This includes tax credits, resources that might be available through school districts or county health programs, and other outside funding sources in addition to the internal resources of the program.)

There is a direct threat to the health and safety of others, and this threat cannot be reduced or eliminated by reasonable modifications.

The child's needs are fundamentally different from what is offered by the program.

How do I choose child care for my child with special needs?
Finding the right child care program for your family can be a challenging and time-consuming task. Because your child has special needs and may require additional care or supervision, the child care provider you choose may need additional skills and training. Give yourself plenty of time to visit and screen a variety of programs so decisions do not have to be made quickly. Starting a search two to four months before the actual starting date is best. Finding a quality child care program that meets your family's and your child's needs can be worth all the time and energy invested.

Think about your child's needs
What expectations do you have for your child in a program? Do you want your child to interact with other children? Do you want your child to be included in all activities in the program?

Describe any concerns you may have about your child. It is helpful to write them down. Start by listing what you would want to tell a potential provider. For instance, does your child require a special diet or need assistance with feeding? Does your child require assistance with toileting or mobility? Identify your child's strengths and interests, as well as the challenges the special needs may bring.

Think about your family's needs
Why is child care required? Are you working or attending school? Do you need free time or respite care? How many hours of care will be needed each day or week? Will you need full-time or part-time care? Which days of the week will you need care? Who will drop off and pick up the child?

You also need to examine your own beliefs in the areas of discipline, guidance, religion, and cultural beliefs. It may be helpful to sort out what would be necessary and what would be ideal in a child care setting for your family's needs. Providers may be able to alter or adapt their existing program to meet your needs.

Starting your search
It is best to interview and visit a variety of child care providers and settings so you are able to compare the benefits of each program before making a decision.

As you make the first telephone contact with a child care provider, be clear about your child's special needs as well as your concerns. In addition to giving the provider information about your child, you are able to get basic information about the program. Listen attentively to the details the provider shares with you. This is a good time to tell the provider about any additional training or resources your child requires and what support services are available.

Visiting the child care program after the telephone interview
Call and set up appointments to visit several child care programs. Visit each program at different times during the day. First, visit the program without your child. After observing the provider, children, and setting, decide if you would like your child to meet the provider and other children.

Choosing the right program
Focus on one or two programs. Do they have a well-balanced program to meet your child's needs? Is the environment adaptable and stimulating? Look at the amount of physical space. Is there enough space with a variety of toys that are accessible and interesting for all ages? Choosing the right program can be rewarding and educational. Remember, you know your child best and you are your child's voice. The best advice in choosing the right program is to go with your initial feeling. It is usually the best indicator.

Helping the provider get ready
You'll need to complete various registration forms for the provider. There are several ways to assist the provider in working with your child. You could suggest reading material about your child's special needs. If your child has received services from a professional for his or her special need, you may want to give that information to the provider. You'll want to demonstrate how to use certain equipment, how to position your child, or how to contact other professionals who provide services for your child.

Educate the provider about your child's personality, cultural and family beliefs, and medical needs.

Try to help the provider prepare the other children for the arrival of a new child. Books, role playing, and visits to integrated programs are ways the provider can help children understand special needs.

Helping your child and family get ready
Preparing for child care can be fun. Visit the program a couple of times with your child before the first day. Talk to your child about the provider and other children and what to expect. Libraries and bookstores have a variety of resources available on adjusting to child care.

Keep in touch with your provider
Communication is the key to successful child care arrangement. Set up consistent communication with therapists, early intervention consultants, and your child care provider. Some families send a notebook back and forth, others make quick notes on small tape recorders. You could also set up a few minutes at pick up or drop off time, or schedule regular meetings with all people involved in the child's development.

Developed by the Greater Minneapolis Day Care Association in collaboration with PACER Center and Courage Center.


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