Child care: why it’s good for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
A quality child care experience in a centre-based long day care or family day care service can help your child with disability, autism or other additional needs learn and develop well.
Child care can give your child opportunities to:
- explore and play with other children
- do a broad range of interesting learning activities
- develop social, emotional, communication and problem-solving skills
- develop physical abilities.
It can also be good for your child’s confidence, mental health and wellbeing.
Child care can give you the chance to work outside your home, go to appointments, do grocery shopping and so on.
Child care might also give you time for self-care and other activities that you enjoy. When you look after yourself and do things that make you feel good, including work, you’ll have more mental and emotional energy to put into your relationship with your child. And you’re better able to give your child what they need to grow and thrive.
Child care rights for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
All children with disability have the right to use child care services, regardless of their disability.
In Australia, the rights of children with disability are protected under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The Act makes it unlawful for child care services to refuse children with disability or limit their access.
Services must also make reasonable adjustments to meet children’s needs. Reasonable adjustments include things like minor building modifications, special resources or equipment, or training for educators. But if a service can show that making an adjustment would be unjustifiably hard for it, it’s not against the law for the service not to make the adjustment. This might happen if the adjustment is too expensive or not best practice, for example.
The rights of children with disability are also protected by state and territory anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws that prevent child care services from discriminating against children with disability.
And the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care sets standards for centre-based and family day care services. These standards cover the needs of children with disability in relation to curriculum decisions.
Choosing child care services for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
The checklists below can help when you’re choosing a centre-based day care or family day care service for your child with disability. There might be other things you need to check, depending on your child’s specific needs and disability.
- Does the environment look safe and engaging for your child?
- Are all indoor and outdoor areas accessible for your child? For example, if your child uses a wheelchair or a walking frame, can they freely move around the service?
- Does the service have equipment and resources that let your child fully participate and play? For example, if your child is non-verbal, does the service have picture cards, playground signs and other resources to help your child communicate?
- If equipment and resources need to be purchased or adapted to make the environment safe, engaging and accessible, how will this happen? Do you need to do anything to help?
Early childhood educators
- Are educators keen to welcome and support your child?
- Are educators experienced in working with children with disability?
- How will educators work with you to understand your child’s specific needs? Do they need training to understand, support and plan for your child’s specific needs?
- Do educators focus on your child’s strengths and interests as well as your child’s needs?
- Does the centre have policies that support inclusion and participation for children with disability?
- Are parents and carers of children with disability welcomed and encouraged to participate in activities at the service?
- Are there children with disability already at the service?
- Does the service use Inclusion Support Program funding, or is it willing to apply for this funding to support your child?
One or more of your child’s health or disability professionals might be able to help you assess the service’s facilities and environment. For example, you could ask your physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
There are 5 options for child care – centre-based care, family day care, home-based care, business-related creches and outside school hours care. You can adapt the checklists above if you’re interested in options other than centre-based or family day care.
Inclusion funding for children with disability, autism or other additional needs at child care
The Australian Government’s Inclusion Support Program funds centre-based and family day care services to include children with disability. This funding is given to services after children’s specific needs are assessed. It might be used for things like:
- employing additional staff
- training staff
- getting special equipment like toileting aids and handrails
- getting or modifying toys and play equipment
- getting devices and aids to help with communication.
Family day care services can apply for a top-up payment if including a child with disability means they can’t enrol the maximum number of children that are usually permitted.
It’s the responsibility of the child care service to apply for Inclusion Support Program funding through its state or territory Inclusion Agency. But they’ll need your permission to apply for funding to support your child. You’ll also need to provide supporting documents from your child’s health professionals about your child’s disability.
Advocating for the rights of children with disability, autism or other additional needs at child care
You might need to advocate for the rights of your child with disability, autism or other additional needs if you:
- believe that your child’s rights to inclusion aren’t being met
- feel your child is being unlawfully discriminated against
- experience significant delays with Inclusion Support Program funding applications.
It’s always best to start by talking with the child care service’s director about concerns like these.
If you can’t sort things out with the service, you can make a formal complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission or the human rights commission in your state or territory.
You can get support from other people to help you advocate for your child. You could ask a family member, friend, volunteer or professional disability advocate to help you.
It’s best for your child’s wellbeing and development to be in an environment where they feel safe, happy, respected and valued. If you feel a service can’t or doesn’t want to provide this kind of environment for your child, it might be worth looking into other options.