What Child Care Providers Need to Know about Disability Laws

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Child care providers sometimes receive requests to care for children with a special physical, emotional, or learning need. Before you set policies or make decisions about caring for children with special needs in your child care program, know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides guidelines you are required to follow when you work with children with special needs. Here are some important points to remember about disability laws as they relate to child care programs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 as an effort to break down the barriers that people with disabilities face, in order to ensure that these individuals can lead full, productive lives. Certain provisions of the ADA apply to child care providers. Here are some rules to keep in mind.

  • It is illegal to charge parents more for the care of a disabled child, or to discriminate against someone with a disability.
  • ADA requires you to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures within your child care program in order to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
  • A modification to your program is not required if it would fundamentally alter the goods or services you provide in your child care setting.
  • Architectural barriers must be removed if “readily achievable.” The term “readily achievable” means that it can be accomplished easily and carried out without much difficulty or expense.
  • Auxiliary aids and services must be provided unless that creates an “undue burden.” “Undue burden” means significant difficulty or expense.

Here’s an example that may make the laws clearer. Making minor changes to toys or equipment would probably not be an undue burden, but hiring a full-time staff person to provide extra assistance might alter the basic structure of your child care program might be.

Remember that including children with special needs does not have to be challenging. Every child is unique, with or without disabilities. You probably already make small changes every day to meet the different needs and challenge the different abilities and interests of typically developing children in your child care program. Making small changes to meet the needs of children with special needs is not much different. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that such changes often benefit all the children in your program.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a law that governs the ways that states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to children with disabilities from birth to age 21. Here are some things child care providers need to know about IDEA.

  • Services are available for infants and toddlers Under IDEA, infants and toddlers (birth through age 2) and their families may receive screening, consultation and early intervention services in each state. These services are often called IDEA Part C services.
  • Families may request a free evaluation and assessment. Qualified specialists know how to work with young children to discover if a child has a problem or is developing within normal ranges. If a child from birth through age 2 is eligible for further assistance, parents will meet with a team of specialists to develop a written plan for providing early intervention services. This plan is called the Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP.
  • Children ages 3 – 21 with a diagnosed special need receive IDEA Part B services. For these children, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is developed. An IEP is a written statement of an educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP. The IEP sets reasonable learning goals for a child and states the services the school district will provide for the child.
  • Child care providers may be asked to serve on the team that creates the IFSP or IEP. Early intervention services for the child are supposed to occur in the child’s natural setting whenever possible. If a child in your program has a disability, the plan may specify that a specialist come to your child care program to assist the child. The specialist may also teach you skills to help you provide appropriate care and education for that child.

For More Information

To learn more about supporting children with special needs in child care, check out the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care section on Child Care for Children with Special Needs. Families can locate early intervention services and assistance in their state by calling the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) at 1-800-695-0285 or by locating state resources at the NICHCY website.

To learn more about including and supporting children with special needs in a child care program, take a look at the following articles: