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How to Choose a Child Care Centre for a Child With Special Needs?

The decision to choose a child care centre for a child with special needs can be tricky. 

You need to consider many things, such as the level of support your child will receive, whether or not they have any allergies that could trigger an asthma attack, transportation options and the proximity of the facility to other services in your neighbourhood.

Limited availability combined with a parent's natural desire to secure the best possible care for their little one makes it tricky at the best of times. 

For parents of children with special needs, the search for quality child care is even more complicated.

In Australia, children with additional needs have access to the full range of child-care providers, including nannies, babysitters, family daycare, private and community-based long daycare, outside school hours care, occasional care, and in-home care. 

However, children with additional needs require additional care and guaranteeing these requirements have met another concern for parents.

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 you need to share information and ideas that you have found work best with the provider.
  • 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.

Other resources can help you. For example, family resource centres provide parent-to-parent support and training. In addition, regional centres 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. 

Finding Child Care

Some child care resource and referral agencies match families with caregivers who specialise 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 unique needs in a non-threatening and supportive way. 

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 for your child's particular needs. 

Choosing Child Care For Special Needs Children

Consider A Special-needs Day Care

The daycare centre is expected to evaluate the child's needs individually and determine if reasonable accommodations can be made to meet that child's needs.

To determine if your child would benefit more from a traditional or special-needs daycare, you start by listing your child's strengths. 

Some parents have a long list of what their child can't do, leaving entirely what their child can do. In a preschool situation, this has to do with communication, socialisation, and being medically fragile. 

Unsure of the best fit for your child? Get a rough estimation by using this formula: Abilities + Behaviors = Proper Placement. 

Rate your child's ability to communicate and socialise on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being very functional. Those with scores below five will want to look for a more specialised provider in your area.

Reach Out To Trusted Sources

Once you've decided that day care that focuses on special-needs children is best for your child, start your search by asking around in the special-needs community -- in support groups and through special-needs Listservs -- which often have a wealth of information about local resources. 

National child-care referral agencies such as the National Dissemination Centre for Children with Disabilities (nichcy.org) and Child Care Aware (childcareaware.org), state human service websites, or other local organisations that aid children with special needs, such as Easter Seals, may be able to direct parents to the right daycares. 

Above all, recognise that the right provider for your child often is not the right provider for someone else's child. 

This means taking a tour of the [child care] provider in person, asking many questions, and requesting frequent verification that things are on track.

Ask Yourself Questions

First and foremost, you should look for a high-quality child-care environment that provides responsive caregiving that positively recognises differences in children's abilities, interests, and experiences. 

The focus should be on individualised care and activities and creating an environment that combines predictability and routine with novelty and stimulation.

There are also three key aspects that parents should assess when looking at a daycare for their child with special needs, the first being safety. 

Ask yourself, is this a safe environment for my child's abilities? The second is structure. Is this an environment that is too restrictive or too free-flowing for my child's abilities? And finally, discipline. 

How will this provider handle the behaviour challenges that my child will display?" Polvado suggests. 

Most of all, look for a provider willing to work with you to create the best fit for your child. 

Parents and teachers must make sure a child-care provider is a right fit for a special-needs child to partner with each other and with community resources and professionals in the early intervention and special-needs fields.

Consider Hiring A Specialized Nanny

If you prefer in-home care for your unique needs child, search for a nanny who has experience working with special-needs children. 

Child-care search engines such as Care.com, SitterCity.com, and SeekingSitters.com often have filters for finding nannies or babysitters with experience working with children with special needs. 

We suggest extensive background checks for anyone working one-on-one with a child with special needs. 

Ask for multiple references, and be sure that you can verify the nanny's personal information. 

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Unfortunately, the more severe your child's disability, the greater the chance of a caregiver's abuse at some point in the child's life. 

We recommend having a continual process of review that includes yearly background checks, stopping by in the middle of the day or coming home early from work occasionally, and observing interactions with the child and caregiver at the park or with a cam. 

Whether in-home care or daycare, look for a solution that provides safety, developmentally appropriate stimulation, and encouragement that matches your child's diagnosis and socialisation needs.

Managing Your Expectations

Therefore, before starting the search for child care, it might be worth considering precisely what you hope to achieve from the service: 

  • Are you simply looking for a place for your unique needs child to socialise and be supervised, or for specialised education services?
  • Do you want the carer to be trained in special needs education, or are you happy to instruct about your child's requirements?
  • Are you happy for your child to participate in a generalised child care program, or would you prefer a more tailored approach?

Having a clear idea about your expectations and discussing them with the child care providers you visit will quickly help narrow your search.

Once you start contacting and visiting child care providers, use our handy checklists to help you cover all the general questions.

To ensure your special needs child is looked after, you might also like to consider the following questions and discuss them with the providers you contact:

  • What is the carer's attitude to people with disabilities in general?
  • What is the carer's attitude towards your child and their unique needs?
  • Does the carer look after any other special needs children, or have they in the past?
  • Does the carer seem comfortable or nervous discussing your child's unique needs?
  • Does the carer seem interested in your child and their development?
  • Is there anyone on staff specifically trained to care for special needs children?
  • Is there additional and tailored programming for children with special needs? Can you participate in the development of this program?
  • Does the carer seem welcoming and friendly, or do you sense some hesitancy in their treatment of your child?
  • Do you like how the carer interacts with your child on your visit, and does your child respond well to their attention?
  • How would the centre handle your child's eating, sleeping and toileting needs?
  • Can your child be included in established routines with minimal disruption?
  • Does the carer seem keen to involve you in the program?
  • Do you think you would feel comfortable talking to the carers about any concerns you or your child had?
  • Would the carer be willing to work with and accept advice from any other professionals you and your child are involved with?
  • What is the carer's protocol for contacting these professionals?

At the end of the visit, does the carer encourage you to contact them if you have additional questions or concerns?

Remember, all the services you contact will have a different approach to caring for special needs children, and you should keep this in mind when you get them. 

It is unnecessary to give each service all the details of your child's specific condition, but make sure you provide enough information for the provider to discuss program and child care options.

Withholding information about your child's needs is not advisable as it may mean your child is accepted into a service that cannot adequately provide for them. 

By providing an honest and realistic picture of your child's needs, you will help to ensure they receive the child care they require.

Your Child's Needs

Once you have narrowed your search to the final one or two centres, please provide them with the information they will need to understand and care for your child.

This list should be as comprehensive as possible, as the more information the carer has, the happier your child is likely to be. 

You might like to use the following list as a starting point, tell the providers:

  • What activities your child enjoys and does well
  • What activities your child finds difficult or frustrating and what help or encouragement they might need to get through these tasks
  • How your child lets you know what they want or needs, describe the sounds, words, cries, gestures your child uses to convey this information
  • How mobile your child is and how they get around. Describe any mobility aids and how they are used.
  • Whether your child is on a special diet and what help they need, if any, to feed
  • What medications your child is on, how often they are taken and any possible side effects
  • What other equipment your child uses, for example, a monitor or respirator.
  • Whether your child is toilet trained and the toileting procedure you use at home
  • How your child interacts with other children and how they react to new or different adults
  • What other agencies, professionals or support programs are providing services to your child
  • Any other special needs your child has

The carer's responses to this information should help finalise your decision about which service to go with.

Settling In

Remember that choosing your provider is simply the start of a relationship that will last as long as your child is in care. 

Expect a period of adjustment as you and your child become familiar with the new arrangements and try to maintain a positive attitude through any tricky patches which arise in the first few weeks.

Discuss any concerns with the carer as soon as they come up, and pay attention to your child's behaviour in the first weeks. 

There is always a possibility that the arrangement may not work, for example, if the carer had an unrealistic idea of how well they could meet your child's needs. 

If you cannot resolve your concerns, after discussing them with your carer, start sourcing a new provider.

Remember that the adjustment period for each child will be different. Keep talking to your child about the arrangement, and keep the carer informed about any changes to your child's needs. 

Constant communication between you, your child, and the carer should help create a nurturing environment that fosters your child's development.

The Inclusion Support Program

The government offers early childhood education and care providers support to make it easier for child care services to include children with additional needs and look after them once they are in care under the Inclusion Support Program (ISP) initiative.

The stated goal of the ISP is to promote and maintain high quality, inclusive education and care for all children, including those with ongoing high support needs, in early childhood education and care settings.

Choosing Special Needs Care

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  • 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:

Caregiver Considerations

  • 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 unique needs.
  • Has a system to record medication, special feedings, or other procedures.

Environmental Considerations

  • The facility is accessible and safe for the child and accommodates adaptive equipment (e.g., wheelchairs and 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.
  • Parent responsibilities
  • Provide adequate caregiver training for special procedures (e.g., nebuliser, g-tube feeding, finger-prick testing).
  • Photocopy written information about the child's unique needs for the provider.
  • Invite the child care provider to the IEP or IFSP meetings.
  • Request consultation with the child care program is written into the IEP or IFSP.
  • Plan a method of communication among the family, the child care provider, and any specialists the child sees.

Conclusion

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want safe environments where children are appreciated for their strengths and encouraged to grow. We want a program that values all children. Although each preschool or daycare centre's circumstances are different, you and your child deserve a child care centre that practices inclusive programming for children with special needs or developmental delays.

Factors, besides price, that should be considered when selecting a child care facility:
  • Hours of Operation. ...
  • Curriculum and Structure. ...
  • Ratio of Staff to Children. ...
  • References. ...
  • Cleanliness. ...
  • Training, Licensing and Credentials. ...
  • Snacks and Meals. ...
  • Turnover of Staff.

All the children with special needs must be enrolled in primary schools. After the assessment of their disabilities by a team of a doctor, a psychologist, and a special educator, in schools, the child will be placed in appropriate educational settings.

How to choose a day care
  1. Do your research. Get recommendations from other parents (at work and among friends) and your pediatrician. ...
  2. Interview centers. ...
  3. Check the center out in person. ...
  4. Check references. ...
  5. Drop by unannounced. ...
  6. Ask about their accreditation.
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