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ISSUE 118  DECEMBER 2008 •  CONTENTS •  HOME PAGE
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EDUCATION

Are early childcare providers ready for inclusion?

Michele Valadie

With Dr. Valerie Rutledge and Dr. Linda Johnston

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Abstract
In the professional field of early childhood education, considerable research has been conducted about the value and importance of inclusive classrooms. Inclusion, “…assumes that students (with disabilities) are full-time members of general education classes rather than visitors or part-time members” (Jorgenson, 2006, p. 30). Although the research indicates the value of this type of education, a significant concern is that the childcare providers who work in these classrooms are often not trained to help the children with special needs. Important aspects of this fact are: what is the background of these childcare providers and their attitudes about training, and do they feel they have had sufficient training to be able to work effectively with children with special needs? Although pre-service teachers are beginning to receive the training to successfully incorporate inclusive practices in the classroom, what about providers in childcare settings that have only a high-school education and that are not planning to return for traditional classroom education? These providers also serve children in their homes or in childcare centers. Are these adults prepared or even knowledgeable about how to use inclusive practices in their settings?

Including children with disabilities in a regular education classroom or a typical childcare center has been a topic of discussion within the field of education for approximately 20 years. Cheryl Jorgenson (2006) gives a historical picture of how we arrived at this point in education. She states that in 1975 the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) was created. Through this law, children with disabilities were guaranteed universal access to a free appropriate public education. Subsequently, though children were provided an education, what this meant in many instances was that children with disabilities were segregated and educated in separate, self-contained classrooms located within a regular school. In the 1970s, “mainstreaming” was a popular idea. With this concept, children with disabilities visited a general education classroom for the purpose of socialization. In the 1980s, “integration” evolved into having students with disabilities stay in the general education classroom for half of the day. By the late 1980s, “inclusion” surfaced. This view “assumes that students are full-time members of general education classes rather than visitors or part-time members” (p. 31). Students are provided with the necessary supports to ensure their success in the general environment.

The research indicates that inclusion is a positive source of instruction for both typically developing children and children with special needs (Rafferty and Griffin, 2005; Proctor and Niemeyer, 2001). In recent years childcare providers who are responsible for the care and education of children with special needs have voiced concerns that they are not adequately trained to meet the needs of these children (Buysse, Wesley and Keyes, 1998).

Several important questions arise from this situation:

A. Do childcare providers know what to do for children with disabilities?
B. How much training do early childcare providers have prior to working with children with special needs?
C. What kind of information do early childcare providers need to have in order to effectively work with children with special needs?
D. What is the most effective way to receive training about children with special needs?

A wealth of knowledge from research studies exists that indicates inclusion is desirable for the majority of children with special needs. For the past 20-25 years, leading researchers in the education field have determined that it is best for children to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) in early childcare and educational settings (Buysse, Skinner and Grant, 2001; Hanline, 1990; Jorgensen, 2006). However, it has only been since the late 1980s that inclusion has become a viable option for children with disabilities (Odom, 2000)). The goals for providing services to a child in an inclusive setting are for children with disabilities to be “full members” of their classrooms and schools and to make progress towards achieving “academic and functional competence” (Janney and Snell, 2006, p. 215).

Early intervention has become an important focus of education in the last 20 years, due in part to laws that have mandated that children birth to five years of age receive special education services if they are diagnosed as having a disability. The Education of the Handicapped Act amendments of 1986 (Public Law 99-457) provided incentives to states that made provisions for a comprehensive program that included multidisciplinary inter-agencies across the state (Hanson and Bruder, 2001). With the passage in 1991 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Public Law 105-17), an emphasis was placed on best practices for education children with disabilities ages 6 through 21. In 1997, an amendment to this law stipulated that trained and supervised paraprofessionals and assistants could provide services to children ages birth to five. Most importantly, this law mandated that children be educated in their “natural environment” that includes the home or community in which children without disabilities participate (Hanson and Bruder, 2001). Based on this law, if a child’s natural environment is a typical childcare setting then that child is to be educated in that setting. In addition, the law stipulated that family members were to participate in all aspects of the child’s early intervention programming. Lipsky and Gartner (1998) indicate that IDEA 1997 emphasizes that the education “of students with disabilities should produce outcomes akin to those expected for students in general, and students with disabilities should be educated with their non-disabled peers”.

Children who may participate in early intervention services are children who are aged birth to five (0 to 5) and who experience developmental delays in the following domains: cognition, motor, communication, social/emotional or adaptive behavior. These delays are determined by the use of appropriate diagnostic assessments.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA; Public Law 101-336), a childcare center is expected to make accommodations to meet a child’s needs. There are a few stipulations that exempt a childcare center from taking a child with disabilities into the program; however, the exclusions cannot be based on stereotypes (Richey, Richey and Webb, 1996; Osborne, Garland and Fisher, 2002). For example, if a child is in a wheelchair and there is no wheelchair access in or out of the building, a provider may not be able to take that child, as they cannot meet his /her needs. On the other hand, if a child could get out of his/her wheelchair to get in and out of the building, then he/she would not be denied. A childcare provider could not deny all children who use wheelchairs. Whether accepting a child or not should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Bricker (as cited in Buysse et al, 2001) feels that quality care should encompass three components: “(a) attitudes and beliefs, (b) professional knowledge and skills, and (c) adequate support systems ranging from professional development and collaboration to appropriate physical accommodations” (p 147). A significant problem with this is that many childcare providers have a high school diploma and have not had any experience working with children who have a diagnosed disability. Little to no training takes place in the childcare setting to offer training to providers who work with children who have a disability.

It is imperative that the providers receive some kind of training to be able to provide quality care and education to these children. Previous research has focused on how well regular educators are prepared to work with children with disabilities (Sexton, Snyder, Lobman and Daly, 2002; Chang, Early and Winton, 2005). Within this research, the students indicated that although they had more knowledge after taking the course, they still felt inadequately prepared to work with children with disabilities. Therefore, one might think that if pre-service teachers do not feel adequately prepared after classroom training, childcare providers with a high school education may not feel prepared at all.

Osborne et al. (2002) completed a study on training early childhood providers with a specific training tool, SpecialCare training. The results indicated that participants’ comfort and attitudes toward caring for children with disabilities increased after training and were maintained for months after the study. In support of training in the area of inclusion and special needs, positive teacher beliefs facilitating inclusion should be an integral part (Proctor and Niemeyer, 2001). In reviews of several studies, it has been noted that consultation produces positive results in attitudes and behaviors (Fuchs, Fuchs, Dulan, Roberts and Fernstrom as cited in Wesley, Bussey and Skinner, 2001; File and Kontos, 1992; Hanline, M. 1990). The implications for research in this field are obvious and very much needed. The literature continues to support inclusion as a viable option for educating children with special needs (Lipsky and Gartner, 1998; Turnville and Turbiville, 1995). Teachers must be better prepared by higher education. Without proper training to assist providers to meet the needs of young children with disabilities, valuable time can slip away when in fact, the children could be experiencing meaningful instruction and participate fully in an appropriate setting.

The attitudes of providers and their beliefs about children with disabilities are essential in making inclusion work successfully for all children. Successful inclusion depends on childcare providers maintaining a positive attitude about working with children with varying abilities (Osborne, Garland and Fisher, 2002). Buysse (1998) indicates that attitudes are significant barriers to successful inclusion. Initial attitudes of the childcare provider are generally those of fear of not being able to provide adequately for the child with the disability, as well as the other children in the classroom (Richey et al, 1996). Lack of knowledge about the disability, personnel preparation concerns, lack of communication/collaboration, as well as knowing what are useful interventions in helping these children to be successful, are some other concerns (Smith and Rapport, 1999).

Although the National Association for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) recommends that teachers be trained in inclusive practices including assessment, pre-service teachers rarely feel that they receive adequate education or preparation in this area (Miller and Losardo, 2002, p. 314).

Edwall (2007) notes that childcare professionals receive little training in using assessments in working with children. Pianta (2007) states that “early childhood teachers describe themselves as alienated from and lacking the supports available in K-12. This is a fragile and vulnerable system that is increasingly being asked to ameliorate social, economic, and educational disparities” (p. 48). It is of great concern that if pre-services, college-educated teachers are concerned about their training, then what is the perception of those who do not even have this level of education, yet are working in the early-childhood classroom and are expected to provide inclusive services for children with disabilities.

In the state of Tennessee, the Department of Human Services (DHS) monitors childcare providers for quality childcare. Childcare providers do have to have a minimum of 12 hours a year of training (DHS licensing regulations, 2006). The Tennessee Childcare and Resource Referral System (CCRR) through a collaborative effort with Tennessee State University facilitate the delivery of much of that training. Childcare providers are not limited to training from the CCRR but are able to receive training from a variety of sources to count towards the 12 hours. The training for inclusion is not mandatory for any childcare provider. It is just one choice a childcare provider may select from many. In the CCRR system, six trainings about inclusion are offered to childcare providers. They are:

(1) What is inclusion?
(2) Common disabilities;
(3) Types of additional support for children with special needs;
(4) Developmentally appropriate practice and effective staff scheduling techniques for children with special needs;
(5) Building partnerships between programs and families of children with special needs;
(6) Strategies for addressing the goals of children with special needs.

The professional development provided by the CCRR across the state of Tennessee involves on-site training and lectures. The staff at the CCRR provides the on-site training. They to go the childcare setting and give feedback about the environment and ways to improve the provider’s delivery of services. The other form of training is lecture based. These trainings typically last either 1 ½ or 2 hours.

Hill (2007) discusses the value of professional development and the effectiveness it has for the participants. She states that professional development should have three components: “It must last several days or longer; it must focus on subject-matter-specific instruction; and it must be aligned with the instructional goals and curriculum materials in teachers’ schools”. Teachers need the information to be driven by their own needs, ideas, and self-directed learning. If a provider does not currently have a child that has been diagnosed with disabilities in his/her center/home, there may not be a need to attend one of the above professional development opportunities. However, a child’s disabilities may become apparent and the childcare provider may not know what to do.

In conclusion, although there is more information and research being done on inclusion and pre-service training, the field sorely needs additional research about early childhood providers who do not have a higher-ed degree yet are working in the field and expected to provide quality services for children with disabilities. Hopefully this research will come to fruition in the very near future in order to assist these providers is getting the skills they need to help the children they serve.

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_________

Michele Valadie is a special education teacher who has been working in this field for 25 years in some capacity. I have worked in private settings both in segregated settings as well as inclusive settings. I have worked directly with parents and childcare providers in training them on how to care for children with disabilities. I have a Master’s Degree in Special Education and am currently working on my doctorate in the field of education. Currently I am an inclusion consultant working with childcare providers. I train on topics related to quality childcare. I am also an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I teach a course on general special education and assessment of the young child.