Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Inclusion in Early Childhood Services: Ongoing Challenges

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Inclusion in Early Childhood Services: Ongoing Challenges

Article excerpt

Introduction

Federal policy in Australia promotes the availability of flexible and high quality child care for young children of working parents and particularly for children with additional needs. Commonwealth and state schemes are designed to assist inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood services. With the increasing participation of parents of young children in the workforceearlyworkforce, early childhood service agencies are searching for ways to provide high quality early childhood services to children with disabilities with disabilities and their families.

Background

The prevalence of childhood disability is estimated at four per cent of the 0-4 years population, suggesting that approximately 72,000 Australian children in this age range have a disability, although how many are enrolled in early childhood services is not known (ABS, 1998; ABS, 1999). In the few international studies, estimates vary from around one per cent to five per cent of all children enrolled have a disability (Crowley, 1990; Markos-Capps & Godfrey, 1999).

There is little doubt that parents are increasingly seeking inclusive early childhood services (Bailey, Blasco & Simeonsson, 1992; Freedman, Litchfield and Warfield, 1995; Llewellyn, Fante & Thompson, 1999). This desire is reinforced by over a generation of research that extols the benefits of inclusive practices (for reviews see Buysee & Bailey, 1993; Guralinck, 2001; McLean & Hanline, 1990). Caveats to this generally optimistic body of knowledge include having high quality programs and appropriate curricula (e.g. Kontos, Moore & Giorgeffi, 1998); providing opportunities for incidental learning, role modelling and interaction, particularly for the younger age group (e.g. Carta, Schwartz, Atwater, & McConnell, 1991); and promoting family-centred practices to ensure that families are an integral part of their child's early childhood experience (e.g. Bjorck-Akesson, 1997).

Inclusion is not compulsory in Australia, leaving parents and early childhood workers to rely on policy leadership and practice initiatives to make this process successful. The multiple stakeholders include the government sector, private enterprise, the not-for-profit sector and local community-based providers. There are numerous opportunities for inclusion to become derailed between policy development and implementation. With this as background, the Office of Child Care, NSW Department of Community Services commissioned a research project to generate a picture of current inclusion practices in NSW early childhood services. A summary report is available in Llewellyn, Thompson and Fante (2000) in a departmental publication titled Insights into research. Four studies on early childhood issues and children's services. Overall, the project reported a strong commitment from early childhood services to including children with disabilities, tempered by several ongoing challenges to the inclusion process. This paper addresses these challenges.

Method

A full report of the multi-method study comprising a field survey, small group interviews, focus groups, and document review can be found in Llewellyn et al. (1999). In brief, a database was compiled of 1195 children's services (long day care, preschool, occasional care, family day care, mobile services, early childhood projects) in six (three metropolitan and three regional) Department of Community Services areas and two local government areas (one regional urban, one rural). A field survey was sent to all services on the database, requesting information about the enrolment of children with disabilities in a nominated week in August 1999, the sources of funding accessed to support enrolment, the types of support provided, the impact of funding on enrolment and barriers to working with children with disabilities. Numerical data on completed surveys was analysed using SSPSS (v. …

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