Looking for child care is a challenging task. Limited availability combined with a parent's natural desire to secure the best possible care for their little one make it tricky at the best of times. For parents of children with special needs the search for quality child care is even more complicated.
Managing Your Expectations
Before starting the search for child care it might be worth considering exactly what you hope to achieve from the service:
- Are you simply looking for a place for your special needs child to socialise and be supervised, or for specialised education services?
- Do you want the carer to be trained in special needs education or are you happy to instruct the carer about your child's requirements?
- Are you happy for your child to participate in a generalised child care program or would you prefer a more tailored approach?
Having a clear idea about your expectations and discussing them with the child care providers you visit will quickly help narrow your search.
Once you start the process of contacting and visiting child care providers use our handy checklists to help you cover all the general questions.
- Early Childhood Education Service Checklist
- Home Based Care Checklist
- Babysitter Checklist
- Parent Guide for Interviewing a Nanny or Au Pair
To ensure your special needs child is looked after you might also like to consider the following questions and discuss them with the providers you contact:
- What is the carer's attitude to people with disabilities in general?
- What is the carer's attitude towards your child and their special needs?
- Does the carer look after any other special needs children or have they in the past?
- Does the carer seem comfortable or nervous discussing your child's special needs?
- Does the carer seem interested in your child and their development?
- Is there anyone on staff specifically trained to care for special needs children?
- Is there additional and/or tailored programming for children with special needs? Can you participate in the development of this program?
- Does the carer seem welcoming and friendly or do you sense some hesitancy in their treatment of your child?
- Do you like the way the carer interacts with your child on your visit and does your child respond well to their attention?
- How would the centre handle your child's eating, sleeping and toileting needs?
- Can your child be included in established routines with minimal disruption?
- Does the carer seem keen to involve you in the program?
- Do you think you would feel comfortable talking to the carers about any concerns you or your child were having?
- Would the carer be willing to work with and accept advice from any other professionals you and your child are involved with?
- What is the carer's protocol for contacting these professionals?
- At the end of the visit does the carer encourage you to contact them if you have additional questions or concerns?
Remember, all services you contact will have a different approach to caring for special needs children and you should keep this in mind when you contact them. It is not necessary to give each service all the details pertaining to your child's specific condition, but make sure you provide enough information for the provider to discuss program and child care options.
Withholding information about your child's needs is not advisable as it may mean your child is accepted into a service which cannot adequately provide for them. By providing an honest and realistic picture of your child's needs you will help to ensure they receive the child care they require.
Your Child's Needs
Once you have narrowed your search to the final one or two centres, provide them with the information they will need to understand and care for your child.
This list should be as comprehensive as possible, as the more information the carer has the happier your child is likely to be. You might like to use the following list as a starting point, tell the providers:
- What activities your child enjoys and does well?
- What activities your child finds difficult or frustrating and what help or encouragement they might need to get through these tasks?
- How your child lets you know what he or she wants or needs, describe the sounds, words, cries, gestures your child uses to convey this information?
- How mobile your child is and how he or she gets around? Describe any mobility aids and how they are used?
- Whether your child is on a special diet and what help they need, if any, to feed.
- What medications your child is on, how often they are taken and any possible side effects?
- What other equipment your child uses, for example a monitor or respirator?
- Whether your child is toilet trained and the toileting procedure you use at home?
- How your child interacts with other children and how he or she reacts to new or different adults.
- What other agencies, professionals or support programs are providing services to your child?
- Any other special needs your child has.
The carer's responses to this information should help finalise your decision about which service to go with.
Remember that choosing your provider is simply the start of a relationship that will last as long as your child is in care. Expect a period of adjustment as you and your child become familiar with the new arrangements and try to maintain a positive attitude through any tricky patches which arise in the first few weeks.
Discuss any concerns with the carer as soon as they come up, and pay attention to your child's behaviour in the first weeks. There is always a possibility that the arrangement may not work, for example if the carer had an unrealistic idea of how well they could meet your child's needs. If you are unable to resolve your concerns, after discussing them with your carer, start the process of sourcing a new provider.
Remember, the adjustment period for each child will be different. Keep talking to your child about the arrangement and keep the carer informed about any changes to your child's needs. Constant communication between you, your child and the carer should help create a nurturing environment which fosters the development of your child.