Special Reports

Tips for parents seeking day care for kids with special needs

Marcie Meelaphsom, who cares for her 9-year-old autistic grandson, said she gave up on enrolling him in a day care center. One director told her the day care was too concerned about liability. She felt that another center was stalling by requiring more and more signed forms and personal information.

She didn’t pursue it. “If they don’t want him there, I don’t want him there,” Meelaphsom said.

That’s a common response from parents, said Reynaldo Green, director of parent services at the Georgia-based nonprofit Quality Care for Children.

But in situations where transportation is an issue, families may need to fight back and challenge the day care about its compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which forbids discrimination against the disabled, he said.

When parents seek advice from Quality Care for Children, which operates a parent resource hot line funded by the state, Green said the agency suggests that parents not mention their child’s disability when they first call to ask a day care if it has vacancies. Later, they can bring the child in to visit the day care and discuss his or her care with teachers and the director in person.

He said parents need to emphasize their child’s capabilities rather than focusing on their deficits.

Besides the questions all parents should ask, Green recommends that parents whose children have special needs check to see if the day care environment promotes inclusion and ask what type of activities their child will participate in. Will the child be partnered with other children? Are playgrounds accessible?

Parents should examine the policy manual and understand how the center will handle biting, scratching and illness, Green said. Check to see if the discipline policy seems a good fit for dealing with children who have behavioral disabilities.

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