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Identifying Solutions for Inclusive Child Care

Updated: Mar 5

By Kari Jones, President & CEO, ElevateDD

Photo by Hey Lucy Photography

 

“My child is not potty trained and child cares either don’t take kids until they are potty trained, or they don’t take kids her age that aren’t potty trained.”

 

When you are a caregiver of a child with extra needs, hitting developmental milestones – however delayed they may occur – is a huge win. As caregivers, we’re in a unique circle of understanding in which we recognize the hours and hours of therapeutic interventions, the exhaustion, the anxiety, and the heartache, which make the sweet successes all the sweeter. We celebrate with one another, in recognition that a “developmental victory” can often mean more independence is earned and more inclusion in community resources can be gained.

 

When it comes to inclusion in child care, however, getting access is challenging in and of itself. Through a recent survey including nearly 800 families throughout Ohio whose children have developmental disabilities, 60 percent of families indicated being turned away from child care programs for commonly cited reasons such as the program’s inability to meet diapering or toileting needs, medical needs, physical accommodations, or behavior supports. Put another way, less than half of these families have access to child care – even when space is available. Families feel like they’re beating the odds simply in finding a program that doesn’t immediately turn their child away.

 

In an already strained industry, it’s not surprising that child care programs don’t feel equipped to address a variety of needs often necessary to serve children who need more supports. Yet, families whose children have developmental disabilities are left with limited options that leave them trapped in unimaginable scenarios:

  • forcing them into one-income households that leave them financially strained,

  • balancing work and child care resulting in interrupted careers,

  • increasingly depending on family members that burden relationships, and

  • lacking child care options that negatively impact the child’s learning and development opportunities.

 

Over 50 percent of families surveyed stated that their ability to work is either significantly or very significantly impacted due to the lack of access to child care. And even if a family does find a place that will accept their child, 70 percent of families indicated they had to leave a child care provider and find a new one due to unmet needs. To be clear, the barometer for success with inclusive child care shouldn’t merely be not turning away a child with extra needs. 

 

That’s why it’s so exciting to see the work that’s being done in our state to begin to tackle this long-standing issue. In late 2023, Governor DeWine, alongside the Department of Children & Youth Director Kara Wente, launched Ohio PROMISE to offer training and educational resources for child care programs and their employees. This training aligns with one of the recommendations we provided the state based on the voices of Ohio families whose child care needs are currently unmet. We’re thrilled to see that nearly 1,000 child care programs throughout Ohio have opted into these training opportunities!

 

In addition to training within child care programs, we feel strongly that financial assistance is a significant need for Ohio families. Ohio PROMISE has answered this in its creation of the Inclusion Scholarship for families. This scholarship can subsidize some of the financial burden associated with accessing high-quality child care and is a great resource for qualifying Ohio families. Elevating the needs through the voices of families to state leaders is meaningful and powerful. We’re proud to live in a state with leaders who listen, care, and – most importantly –act on the feedback they’re receiving.

 

The barriers families face in navigating child care is complex and the solution is equally complex. There are so many unmet needs for families whose children have extra needs that one small essay or blog post can simply not suffice! Aging out of child care programs, inability to find summer resources for teens with disabilities who cannot be left alone, and a lack of support in navigating a child care program that can accommodate your child’s unique needs are just a few of the barriers.

 

No family should ever feel like they’ve won the lottery just because they’ve found a place that will accept their child. Finding a place that is accepting, inclusive, and working towards enrichment should be the norm.

 

If you want to learn more about the needs, survey results, and recommendations, you can read our full report.  

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