Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The Inclusion of Children with a Disability in Child Care: The Influence of Experience, Training and Attitudes of Childcare Staff

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The Inclusion of Children with a Disability in Child Care: The Influence of Experience, Training and Attitudes of Childcare Staff

Article excerpt

Introduction

The enactment of Federal anti-discrimination legislation (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992) and changes in community attitudes towards disability have led to increased involvement of people with disabilities in numerous aspects of community life. These changes, along with an increase in the number of mothers of children who have disabilities wishing to return to the work force, have created a growing demand for childcare placements for such children (Department of Family and Community Services, 2000). This has required childcare providers to adapt their practices to meet the needs of these children and enable them to participate in the everyday activities of childcare centres (Department of Families Youth and Community Care, 2000). Government funding is available to support the inclusion of children with disabilities in child care through the employment of additional staff, staff training and the purchase of resources (Department of Family and Community Services, 2002; 2005; O'Connor, O'Connor, Holt, Wilkes & Charnley, 1997). However, accessing these funds can be problematic (Llewellyn, Thompson & Fante, 2002).

The Queensland Child Care Strategic Plan 2000-2005 (Department of Families Youth and Community Care, 2000) acknowledged the difficulties frequently experienced by families of children with a disability accessing appropriate childcare programs, and designated the inclusion of such children in child care as a high priority area.

Background

Including children with a disability in early childhood programs sets a precedent for inclusion as the norm, and reduces the possibility of later prejudice and negative attitudes towards people with a disability (Pivak, McCormas & LaFlamme, 2002; Sindelar, 1995; Wolery et al., 1994). The practice of inclusion encourages children's awareness of individual differences (Buysse, Wesley, Keyes & Bailey, 1996) and the great diversity among people (Wolery et al., 1993). In addition, research has shown that young children with disabilities who have attended inclusive programs have more positive social interactions and behavioural outcomes than those in segregated programs (Buysse & Bailey, 1993).

Guralnick (1994) reported that parents of children with and without disabilities shared positive attitudes towards inclusion as well as concerns regarding the quality of special assistance, the qualifications of staff, the demands on staff time and the possibility of peer rejection. Parents of children with a disability preferred inclusive settings for their children, believing that typically developing peers provide positive role models for social skills, language, and age-appropriate behaviour as well as possible friendship (Hanson et al., 2001; Miller et al., 1992; Odom, 2000).

Most of the research literature also supports the beneficial nature of inclusion, but it is important to note that most studies were conducted in educational settings, particularly preschool and primary school environments. Little research relates to childcare settings, and most of what is available emanates from overseas, where childcare provisions are substantially different from those in Australia.

Australian child care

An array of childcare services exists in Australia, including, private and community-based long day care centres, family day care schemes, outside school hours and vacation care services, and occasional care services (Department of Family and Community Services, 2000). Approximately three per cent of children accessing child care in Australia were reported to have disabilities (Department of Family and Community Services, 2000). The largest proportion of these children was reported to be attending family day care, with decreasing percentages at community-based long day care centres and private childcare centres.

According to demographic data, three to four per cent of children aged zero to four years have a disability (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1998; 1999; Disability Services Queensland, 1999), but this is probably an underestimate as many children with mild disabilities are likely to have been unrecorded. …

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