By Amanda Schwartz, Consultant, Foundations for Families

The children in your program come with a wide variety of strengths, challenges, and needs which you and your staff work hard to support. Sometimes those needs qualify them for special education or health services. They may come to your program already identified, with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), an Individual Education Plan (IEP), or an Individual Health Plan (IHP) in place which your staff will need to know and help implement. Staff may also identify concerns about children already enrolled in your program through your screening and assessment processes, which will require you to support families through the referral and identification process. Either way, your program will be including children with disabilities and special health care needs and can follow some basic tips to do this best.

1. As you do with all children, build relationships with families. Families of children with disabilities and special health care needs may have additional challenges that impact their daily lives. Your support can help make things better and easier, easing stress by giving their children the best opportunities to learn and grow.

2. Connect with your special education partners. When you already have trusting relationships with special education and related services providers, collaboration is easier. Children are more likely to have a smooth transition through the referral and identification process, and receive services in your inclusive setting.

3. Learn as much as you can about the children in your care. With parental consent, review their files to understand their health and developmental needs, as well as the goals found in their IEP or IFSP. Add all of the ongoing assessment data you collect so that the child’s next teacher has a rich set of information to use for individualization.

4. Meet families where they are. Families and children come to you at differing stages of their lives. Their values and priorities may not be the same as yours, but understanding their perspective and adjusting to support them in what matters most to them is important. It shows you value them and will be a strong, respectful partner, allowing them to make lasting changes to support their child’s growth.

5. Stay open and ask for help. There are so many times when working with children with disabilities or special health care needs that a tried-and-true strategy doesn’t work anymore. In these moments, it’s important to listen to others, including families, colleagues, administrators, and partners. You are part of team and everyone contributes to the child’s development – each perspective may hold an important idea that can help that child grow.

Inclusion requires creativity, openness, and collaboration above all else. Staff who embrace these qualities will be better able to help children with disabilities and special health care needs engage in developmentally-appropriate learning within their settings.

Keep your eyes out for the next publication of Child Care Exchange Magazine, where Amanda Schwartz‘s article, The 5 Most Important Concepts in Special Education: IDEA Basics for the Child Care Setting, will be highlighted.

Thank you.

Adapted from: Schwartz, A. (In Press). The 5 Most Important Concepts in Special Education: IDEA Basics for the Child Care Setting. Child Care Exchange Magazine.

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