What we know:

  • Children with disabilities are still regarded as a separated group, apart from and different to the common experience of the mainstream child care sector. The experience of children with disabilities and their families remains primarily one of 'special treatment'
  • Maintaining good inclusive programs requires:
    1. A clearly articulated philosophy that emphasizes and values diversity in children
    2. Policies and procedures which foster mutual collaboration and cooperation between children's services and specialist services
    3. Highly collaborative planning and decision making between children's services personnel, specialist services and families
    4. An ability to accommodate specialized and/or intensive programs for children with disabilities with the naturalistic experiences of the children's services setting
    5. Positive, collaborative and cooperative relationships between adults aiming to seek the best outcomes for the child and their family
    6. Family centred practices i.e.
    * Acknowledging the family as the constant in the child's life
    * Facilitating family/professional collaboration
    * Exchanging complete and unbiased information between families and professionals
    * Honouring cultural diversity
    * Respecting each family's individuality in their adaption to their child's needs and each family's expressed goals
    * Facilitating family-to-family support and networking
    * Ensuring all services are flexible, accessible and comprehensive
    * Appreciating families as families and children as children first, taking into account their wide range of strengths, concerns, emotions and aspirations beyond their need for specialized services and support
  • Despite intended policy, families of children with disabilities do not experience services as being family-oriented
  • Issues pertaining to the inclusion of children with a disability in early childhood services revolve around:
    1. Securing Funding
    1. Having to negotiate the multiple sources of government funding, each of which has their own eligibility and accountability criteria. Further, application processes are deemed to be poorly understood, complex, and resource-intensive
    2. Having to obtain a disability diagnosis to secure funding. Concerns raised here included staff becoming involved in difficult and intensive negotiations with parents and professionals so as to receive the necessary documentation and placing a potentially segregating label on a child so early in his or her development
    3. Dealing with funding inequities and uncertainties
    4. Believing that children with disabilities can only be included in mainstream children's services if additional funding is forthcoming
    2. Enrolling Children with Disabilities
    This practice is made difficult by the following identified constraints:
    1. Obtaining and keeping competent and confident staff
    2. Duty of care and fear of litigation concerns owing to a lack of knowledge, skills or resources to adequately meet the needs of children with disabilities
    3. Children with a disability being regarded as adding an unwelcome and additional responsibility to already busy services
    4. The ongoing separation of specialist and mainstream services which works against inclusion by fostering competitive rather than collaborative working relationships
    3. Inclusion in practice
    1. Inadequate staff:child ratios
    2. Lack of access to specialist advice
    3. Untrained aides, rather than special aides, being more likely to provide support to the overall centre programs in addition to assisting children with a disability
    4. Co-ordinating the many services involved, such as family support, vacation care and early intervention, thereby having less 'floor time' with the children
  • Using consultative specialist support is the most common model of inclusive practice currently adopted. This is followed by the employment of an additional staff person to work with the child with a disability
  • There is currently no comprehensive policy, planning or funding framework for the inclusion of children with disabilities in NSW children's services

What we can do:

  • Make a commitment to including children with disabilities and communicate this commitment to families
  • Use simple, positively phrased application processes that identify child and family goals with the support required to reach these
  • Engage in family-centred work training
  • Provide adequate information in ways which are user-friendly for families
  • Offer extensive opportunities for families to ask questions and receive answers
  • Allow sufficient time to observe inclusion in action and develop your own level of comfort with the concept
  • Provide a variety of ways to 'try out' inclusion for the child and the family

Want to know more? Check out these publications:

Llewellyn, G., Thompson, K., & Fante, M. (2002). Inclusion in early childhood services: Ongoing challenges. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 27(3), 18 - 23.

Llewellyn, G. & Fante, M. (1999). Young Children with Disabilitiesin NSW Children's Services. Office of Childcare: NSW Department of Community Services.

NSW Department of Community Services (2000). Insights Into Research: Four Studies on Early Childhood Issues and Children's Services (pp. 93 - 122). Office of Childcare: NSW Department of Community Services.