What Parents Should Look for in Special Needs Childcare Providers

Finding great childcare providers can be a challenge for any parent, but is often even more difficult for the parents of children with special needs.

Some caregivers and daycare centers are not equipped to meet the needs of all children, though they are legally prohibited from discrimination or refusing to enroll a child with special needs under the Americans with Disabilities Act. While a childcare provider may eagerly enroll a child whose needs are different from those of their peers, their enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily mean they’re prepared for the challenges and differences inherent to caring for them. Determining whether or not a childcare provider will be a good fit with your child isn’t always easy, but there are things to look for which can indicate a greater likelihood of a successful relationship.

Full Inclusion and Reasonable Accommodation for Kids with Special Needs

The first thing parents should look for when considering a childcare provider for a child with special needs is a commitment to inclusion and a commitment to reasonable accommodation. In daycare centers with multiple enrollees, look for other children who have special needs. Are they included with the rest of the group, and encouraged to participate accordingly? All kids should be included in the daily routine, which means no child with special needs should ever be excluded or isolated from their peers. If there are no other children with special needs currently enrolled, make a point of asking about the center’s plan for including your child.

Another important quality to look for is a willingness to make reasonable accommodations in order to facilitate proper care. If your child has mobility issues, make sure he or she will be able to move through the facility without impediments. Are play areas, both indoors and outdoors, wheelchair accessible? While the Americans with Disabilities Act expressly prohibits children with special needs from being excluded from daily programs and requires all childcare providers to make reasonable modifications in order to make the facility accessible, some may only be prepared to meet the minimum legal requirements.

Experience and Competence

When interviewing childcare providers, it’s usually wise to put those with the requisite experience at the top of your list. This especially holds true when your child has special needs, as a caregiver who’s not familiar with those needs and equipped to meet them may struggle to competently care for them. Ask about policies and procedures currently in place for the care of children with special needs. A childcare provider with a reasonable amount of experience in this area will usually have a cogent response.

Some childcare centers may be geared specifically towards children with special needs, and will typically be staffed with childcare providers who are well-versed in meeting those needs. If you’re looking for a traditional childcare center rather than one specifically designed for children with special needs, look for a willingness to learn more about your child and how to best accommodate him or her. Is the center administrator inquisitive and understanding, or offering blanket assurances without asking detailed questions? Sometimes, a center administrator, private nanny or home daycare owner may not have experience directly specific to your child’s unique needs, but exhibits a willingness to learn more which makes them more attractive than highly-experienced counterparts who are less open to new techniques.

Genuine Care Over Legal Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it a direct violation of federal law to deny care to children based solely disability or special needs. The law does allow a childcare provider to make the informed decision not to enroll individual children if the caregiver cannot make reasonable accommodations without placing an undue burden on the program, or if the child in question poses a risk for harm to themselves or other children in the program. Fear of litigation can be a motivating factor for some childcare providers who are more concerned with legal compliance than the actual care of your child. One of the most important features for parents to look for in terms of childcare for their child with special needs is the sincere desire to meet those needs, rather than a fear of legal trouble.

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