One in five Canadian child-care centres in a recent study offer high-quality care for children with disabilities, according to new research from the University of Guelph and SpeciaLink.
Researchers found a lack of qualified staff, insufficient funding and lack of access to specialists and resources were the main challenges to providing inclusive care.
As a result, children with a variety of physical, emotional and behavioural disabilities and those on the autism spectrum are turned down by centres that are full or that lack the necessary staff.
Dr. Donna Lero, professor emerita in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, co-led the study with Sharon Irwin, director of SpeciaLink, a national centre for child-care inclusion. “Our research is particularly important as federal and provincial governments negotiate new agreements on how to expand and improve access to quality early learning and child-care programs,” Lero said in a press release in June.
The study, called “Inclusion Quality: Children with Disabilities in Early Learning and Child Care in Canada,” found that directors and staff in many child care centres are committed to including children with disabilities, but often lack appropriate support.
The researchers used case studies and rating scales administered by trained observers to assess inclusion quality in 67 centres across the country that had a long history of including children with disabilities.
They found that only one in five centres demonstrated good or excellent inclusion quality. About 20 per cent of the centres studied had poor or inadequate practices to support children with special needs, while the majority had scores in the minimal to mediocre range.
Nearly 80 per cent of child care program directors identified challenges to providing inclusive care, including staff lacking knowledge or training needed to support inclusion or difficulties in finding qualified staff. Insufficient funding to support inclusion and a lack of access to specialists and resources were also identified.
To improve inclusion quality, centres need proper staff training in child development and inclusion specifically, government funding for additional staff and access to specialists and inclusion support services, the study concludes.
“Respect for the rights of children with disabilities to fully participate in their communities is not yet a reality,” said Irwin. “This study identifies what needs to be in place in order to make full inclusion a reality.”