Academic journal article Exceptional Children

"I Wanted to See If We Could Make It Work": Perspectives on Inclusive Childcare

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

"I Wanted to See If We Could Make It Work": Perspectives on Inclusive Childcare

Article excerpt

Many early childhood professionals, parents, and concerned citizens are currently discussing childcare issues which center on the affordability of childcare and the quality of care. Parents of young children are not only concerned about the quality of care their children receive, but also the high childcare costs. Simultaneously, childcare workers are suffering from low salaries with minimum or no benefits. As a result, many childcare centers experience high turnover rates among providers. Within the county of this report, the 1998 turnover rate of full-time center-based providers was 28% (Community Coordinated Childcare, 1998). The problems related to affordable childcare and adequate salaries are so critical that the Children's Defense Fund is launching a national Stand for Children campaign (Children's Defense Fund, 1998). The goal of this campaign is to make affordable, quality childcare available for every family in the United States.

Paralleling national efforts, there are people at local childcare resource and referral agencies building connections between childcare providers and families in need of childcare. Among the children who need childcare are those with disabilities. Often parents of children with special needs wish to include their children in community-based programs (Guralnick, 1994; Odom et al., 1996; Wolery et al., 1994). For many of these parents it is difficult to find adequate placements in multiple group childcare centers or family childcare centers.

Increasingly, childcare providers are asked to include children with disabilities in their programs (National Easter Seal Society, 1998). During the last 10 years new laws were written and amended to ensure equal rights for children with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336) was written to ensure that businesses such as childcare centers include children with disabilities in their programs (Rab & Wood, 1995). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 1997 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997). IDEA requires that children ages 0 to 3 receive early intervention services in the most natural environment, meaning those places where typically developing infants and toddlers spend their time (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. [sections] 1472 (2) (E)). IDEA also maintains that preschool children, ages 3 to 5, are educated in the least restric-tive environment (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. [sections] 1412). In many cases public schools provide preschool services for children identified with early educational needs or special needs. As federal and state mandates demand inclusive practices, early intervention teachers and therapists increasingly work with children in their childcare settings (Lieber et al., 1997) rather than providing separate or parallel services.

Previous research has identified several factors that affect success in inclusive early childhood settings: (a) teacher beliefs, (b) child characteristics, (c) program characteristics, and (d) family-provider relationships. However, most studies investigating early childhood inclusion have been conducted in model schools or university laboratory programs. Few studies have focused on the concerns of childcare providers working in community-based inclusive settings.

Teacher beliefs and comfort levels with the characteristics of the children they serve influenced perceptions of success in inclusion. Research by Buysse, Wesley, Keyes, and Bailey (1996) indicated that teachers' comfort levels decreased as the severity of the child's disability increased. In a recent study, infant-caregivers who viewed inclusion as a personal and professional challenge successfully included children with disabilities in their programs (Recchia, Berr, & Hsiung 1998).

Program characteristics also appear to affect inclusionary efforts. Childcare programs vary greatly in the way they offer inclusive care to children on a day-to-day basis (Janko, Schwartz, Sandall, Anderson, & Cottam, 1997). …

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