How Childcare Providers Can Accommodate Children with Special Needs
The primary goal of high-quality childcare providers is to ensure each and every child under their care gets the attention they need and deserve, but it can be challenging for those with limited experience to accommodate children with special needs.
It’s important for childcare providers to understand not only their legal requirements related to providing care for children with special needs, but also the best approach for providing that care on an individual basis.
Tailoring the Approach to Accommodate Children with Special Needs
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to childcare for children with special needs. Just as the ability and developmental level will vary between every child under a childcare provider’s care, so will the best approach for those with special needs. While effective care to accommodate children with special needs will not be based upon a static approach for every child, there are some key principles which can form the basis for all cases of special needs care.
First and foremost, it is vital that childcare providers, daycare directors and program administrators have a thorough understanding of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and how it applies in a childcare setting. While the majority of laws governing childcare are passed and enforced on a state level, this is one federal law which does affect childcare providers in every state. With few exclusions, all privately-run childcare centers are required, by federal law, to be in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, the very wording of the law requires childcare providers to evaluate the needs of these children individually, which further underscores the importance of tailoring the approach to childcare based upon each child’s special needs.
Another important fact for childcare providers to remember when building a tailored approach to care for children with special needs is that most of these children can and should be included in group activities with minimal change to an existing program. In fact, full inclusion is encouraged whenever feasible.
Legal Compliance and the Americans with Disabilities Act
Under federal law, childcare providers may not refuse to enroll a child based upon the presence of a disability or special needs. From a legal standpoint, a childcare provider may only refuse to enroll a child with special needs if the situation meets certain criteria.
- A child with special needs has a condition which would pose a direct threat to the safety or the health of other children in the program or staff members, and there is no reasonable measures which can eliminate the threat. If policy changes, new equipment, modified practices or revised procedures would eliminate this threat, a childcare provider is legally bound to accommodate children with special needs.
- Meeting a child’s needs will require significant architectural changes which are not readily achievable and there is no reasonable alternative to the removal of barriers on the premises.
- Accommodating a child with special needs through the use of auxiliary aids and services would create an undue burden on a childcare provider, or would constitute a fundamental alteration to the nature of the program and facility, and there is no available alternative.
- The program or facility would be fundamentally altered by changes in procedure, practices or policies required to accommodate a child with special needs and there are no reasonable alternatives available.
- Eligibility criteria is necessary for the provision of the goods, services, advantages or accommodations being offered by a childcare provider and imposing eligibility criteria screens out an individual with special needs.
Before making the decision to deny services, childcare providers must attempt to accommodate children with special needs on an individual basis. Working closely with parents to individualize a care plan is the best and most effective way to adequately meed the requirements of a child with special needs. For childcare providers, it’s of vital importance to evaluate children with special needs on a case by case basis, to formulate a plan which provides inclusion with other children enrolled in the program while taking into account the unique needs of children whose care requirements differ from those of their peers.