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Including Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities in Child Care

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On this podcast we talk with Dr. Jenna Weglarz-Ward about the inclusion of infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays in child care settings.

More About Our Guest

Dr. Jenna Weglarz-Ward is an assistant professor in early childhood education and early childhood special education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.



Dr. Swartz: Thanks for joining us for a podcast from the Illinois Early Learning Project. Our project is part of the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and funded by the Illinois State Board of Education. On this podcast we share information about how young children grow and learn, as well as strategies adults can use to help them thrive. My name is Rebecca Swartz, and I am one of the project’s staff members.

Dr. Swartz: Today we welcome Dr. Jenna Weglarz-Ward. She is an assistant professor in early childhood education and early childhood special education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She joins us to discuss the inclusion of infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays in child care settings.

So hello Dr. Weglarz-Ward! We’re so excited to have you on the Illinois Early Learning Project podcast. Thank you for joining us to talk about including infants and toddlers with disabilities in child care settings. So, let’s get started! Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in this topic? 

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: Yeah, so, currently I’m an assistant professor of early childhood education and early childhood special education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but before that, and currently, I have four children, which all of four enrolled in some kind of form of community-based child care program or preschool program. And two of them actually also received eitherPart Cservices in early intervention or Part B servicesfor children in preschool. And so, my own children, when I, when they were younger, were involved in child care programs and special education early intervention programs at the same time. So, I was invested, a bit, as a parent.

But also, as a professional during that time, I was working in a community-based child care program, a half-day preschool program, and a lot of the children in my program, we were identifying that had developmental delays or disabilities, or were coming in already identified with individual family service plans or individual education programs. And so, as a professional, I was also addressing the needs of, kind of bridging that gap between special education and child care.

And when I went to do my doctoral work, and I started researching some of the areas that I was interested in across child care and early intervention, in particular, I found there was a pretty significant gap in the research, particularly about infants and toddlers with disabilities in child care, and then also really understand the perspective of providers in those areas. So, child care providers who were providing services for infants and toddlers, and then also our early intervention providers who are providing services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and were going into child care settings. So, there was a big, kind of, I felt at the time, a gap in understanding where we are in this area and really understanding from the professional’s perspective and the family’s perspective about what was going really well, what were some challenges that we still needed to overcome, and what were some ideas in how to overcome those challenges.

Dr. Swartz: Great! So, it sounds like it’s been a personal and professional journey to find out more about this topic, in particular, the experiences of infants and toddlers. So, we know that going to child care is a common experience for infants, toddlers, and their families. Why don’t we talk first about the characteristics of high-quality child care for these young children.

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: So, I think high-quality child care, and obviously there’s been lots of work on, at state levels, and national levels, and research: What is high-quality child care? And there’s lots of, you know, things we can look at. And I think for infants and toddlers, some of the key, unique pieces for that, especially infants and toddlers with disabilities, is we’re looking for places that are one, safe, where parents feel safe with their children are gonna to be safe and cared for. And that they also trust the people that are providing care for their children.

So, part of that trust is one, just having a relationship, having directors and owners and providers that are open to engaging with families and learning about families. And also, there is a piece of confidence, professional confidence as well. So, do they have the training and education that families feel is appropriate to care for the needs of their children? For children specifically with disabilities, and infants and toddlers, you really want to also consider, families really want to have coordination between those services, especially if children are in full-time child care. We want to make sure that families feel that professionals can work together, and that their care is coordinated so that they don’t have to do more as families, that professionals will help with part of that coordination as well.

So, when we’re looking, you know at quality pieces for families that they have children with disabilities, is to really look at some things, looking at, does the program itself have a philosophy of inclusion and professional collaboration with, across child care and early intervention and special education? And then other services that are available. Do they do regular developmental screenings? Do they welcome and include family input into planning? Are they interested in providing adaptations to their lesson planning? And are they up to being flexible in things, like looking at feeding and sleeping and the daily care pieces, as well as the developmental education pieces as well, to matching the needs of their child and their family.

Dr. Swartz: Interesting. So, it’s really thinking about how are these different groups—so, early interventionists, child care providers and parents—how are they working together so that they’re all connected in how they want to support that young child? So, quality seems to be not only about the learning opportunities that are provided for children, or the equipment, but also about the relationships that the adults and the child are forming. So, I know that some children come into child care with the diagnosis of a developmental delay or disability, what kinds of things do families in early care and education professionals need to think about in order to help children with disabilities or developmental delays have a successful experience in child care during the infant toddler years?

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: So, I think I said this before. You know, one thing to, and when I’ve talked with families too, and this comes up in research as well, is there’s this kind of that safety and comfort piece of having a child in the program and also that the child is meaningfully included in the program. So, not just are they physically there, but are they also included in the activities? Are they, you know, do they have access to different areas of the room, different peers in their environment, different activities that’s there? So, really making sure that families feel that there’s meaningful inclusion happening throughout the day.

And then also looking for a family center, (garble) with this before, a team-based approach, and looking at seeing, you know that partnership between parents and child care providers and parents with EI providers, and then EI providers with child care providers, is kind of important to think about then that will help with some of those inclusion pieces, for example. How can they work together so that there is meaningful inclusion, that children are engaging with their peers, having meaningful time with materials, and book reading, and those interactions, kind of contingent relationships with those important caregivers, is really important.

Dr. Swartz: So, I’m thinking about this idea of meaningful inclusion and how we’re thinking about “this is a place where that child really belongs.” Maybe families need to have a sense of belonging, and then also all the professionals who are supporting that child need to have a sense belonging and investment in that child care setting and that child’s success in that setting. 

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: Yeah, and what’s important about that sense of belonging, it’s not just for the child, but it’s also for the family. So, making sure that the family feels like they belong there and are included in there as well. Another piece is of, you know, obviously including them in all of the activities that all of the families would be included in. Maybe that’s, you know, time together at the beginning and end of the day, that’s having, if you have special events, if you have any kind of family professional conferences, that they feel included and part of the community of the program, is really important.

And I think another piece of that, as well, is building kind of a trusting, respectful relationship with families so families feel comfortable sharing information about their child’s development and services. And that may be celebrations that happen, a child really pushed over to a developmental skill, they had a really good time at home, but also challenges and frustrations that they feel, as well. Talking to professionals in child care, it happens often that families don’t even feel comfortable sharing information about their child’s disability or developmental delays, and so because of that, professionals feel like they can’t support that family as much as they want to because there is just a thing of trust there, and respect.

So, families need to be able to feel like, “This provider, all of the providers, are there to help support me. And not judge me. Yeah, and not judge me but to feel like, we want the best for your child and family, let’s find the best way to do it.” And to do that we need some information, we need to open up communication, we really need to work together. 

Dr. Swartz: So, it sounds like there’s many mindsets that we can bring to this process of including infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities in child care, and one of them is a mindset of teamwork, one is a mindset of open communication, and another is just a mindset of flexibility and being able to change things, as needed to include that child successfully. So, you talked a lot about the community of a child care program, and I know that some children are in center-based settings, some children are also in home-based settings. What kinds of unique challenges or opportunities do these different settings create for inclusion of infants and toddlers?

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: Yeah, there’s definitely kinds of benefits and challenges to different types of programs and both programs can be, you know, fully inclusive and meaningful for families. So, I think for families, one, they just need to choose the type of program that works for their family and they feel most comfortable with.

And so, for center-based programs some things for inclusion that might be beneficial is that they may have more resources to help support inclusion, including more staff and perhaps more funding to do things. And a big issue here is, the amount of staff impacts not just child-to-adult ratio, but also the availability of, kind of substitute staff. So, that the staff, if they need to attend an IFSP meeting with the family, or they just need to meet with the family, or they need to go to a training to gain more information about a certain strategy that’s being used, or technology that’s being used. So, in center-based programs they have a little bit more, in general, availability to move a little bit, things around.

Dr. Swartz: So, it sounds like for home-based programs there may be just also different things that families and early interventionists need to think about in order to make it possible to support inclusion of a young child with developmental delays or disabilities.

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: And home-based programs actually can be really wonderful because they are usually smaller programs, smaller group sizes, there’s more continuity of care seen. They have the same child care provider providing care for families from when they’re, you know, 6 weeks old ’til 6 years old, or even older. So, that is an opportunity to really build ongoing relationships between families and EI providers and child care providers that can really help support inclusion and really open up that opportunity and provide a smaller context to provide more things like coaching or providing resources that are really targeted to that smaller type of setting. And I get it’s what families prefer, so some families might prefer on that home-based setting or they might prefer a center-based setting that has, you know, different options available.

Dr. Swartz: Right. So, we’re really thinking about the child in the context of the family and meeting their needs and helping families choose what’s best for them, which is very similar to what we would say for families who have a typically developing infant or toddler. Those are all important aspects of high-quality child care. So, let’s talk a little bit more about the early intervention services and how they fit into the child care setting. How can early intervention providers or programs help families and child care providers support infants and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays?

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: So, I think that’s really important for early intervention providers to understand and know if that family has a child enrolled in child care. So, some families receive their services in their home setting, but the child also goes to child care. And then some families receive their services or their EI visits in the child care setting, as well. So, we need to think about, too, if a family has a child that’s going to child care anyway, it may be beneficial to consider including that child care provider. And that could be whoever that is—a family friend, neighbor, home-based care, center-based care providers—into the conversation about early intervention because in early intervention what we want to do is not just think about, you know, our 15-minute EI visit as where the intervention happens.

What we want to do is use the strategies that we can learn during that EI visit, and we want the primary caregiver or the family member and the child care provider to use those strategies throughout the rest of the daily routines, throughout the whole week. So, in early intervention we often say the intervention is actually what happens in between EI visits, not what happens on EI visits. So, it’s important for EI providers to understand the context of the family and figure out where is it best to go do those EI visits, to support all the caregivers for that family.

So, ideally, we would want them to do them in both, that’s really what we want to do. So, for a family, if it works that they’re primarily getting their visits in child care, is there a way to have one visit a month at home? Or, is there a way to invite the family to participate in the visit that happens at child care? So, could it be scheduled at a time where the parents have a break at work and can come in to the child care? So, we have the family members, the child care providers, and EI providers in the child care setting. That would be great.

Or, is there a way to include families using technology or video? And, of course, all of these things I will say, there are some logistic and legal things you need to do to make sure you get permission to do any filming, or to use Skype or Facetime. But there’s innovative ways now to include families through a distance if their child’s providing services in a child care. And again if they’re providing them at home primarily, but a child does go to child care at some point, it’d be nice to do a visit every month, or every six weeks at the child care location to again, to make sure there’s some continuity and consistency across what the child’s experiencing and really embedding some of those strategies into all their daily routines.

Dr. Swartz: The child lives in both places and learns and grows in both places. In child care, it can be a huge part of the child’s week. It would be sad to leave the child care setting out, and it would be sad to leave the home-based setting out because we know that the child learns the most and the intervention actually really happens in between those sessions in early interventions. So, is there anything else you might like to share with us about supporting infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays in early care and education settings?

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: I think one of the most important things, and I think because early childhood is really relationship-based, I think part of life and really thinking about, for child care providers and EI providers, whether you have children currently in your program that are receiving the services or not, it’s important to kind of learn about the different programs that are out there and understand about each other. So, when it comes to a time where you do have to, you are working together, or you are currently working together, you understand the different perspectives being brought in, the different expectations that come in.

So, what does an EI visit look like in a child care setting? What does it look like in a home setting, as well? And what are the different roles of speech-language pathologists and OT, an occupational therapist, and developmental therapists? And then also for EI providers and families, what happens in the child care? What are some, what are the daily routines? What are the ways that they’re embedding different, you know, learning across different developmental domains? What are some really important things that are, you know, important in their philosophy? And the different roles that different people have at that child care.

So, then when you are meeting together, you can understand each other and really maximize the relationships and the routines together and the people that are there, that they want to do it. So, we just want to make sure that we’re providing services that are respectful to all the people involved. And to do that, you just need to know each other, get to know each other, and really work with everybody, focusing on building that team-building and family-centered approach in order to have really strong child outcomes on the end.

Dr. Swartz: So, that’s so important that you’re encouraging us to focus on relationships and see the resources that everyone brings to the table. So, for child care providers to understand that EI providers have a lot to share, and for EI providers to understand the reality of child care and the wonderful things that they have to share as well. So, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. We’ll look forward to having you back on the podcast in a future date and perhaps to talk more in-depth about specific strategies or other aspects of including infants and toddlers with disabilities and delays in child care. Thanks, so much!

Dr. Weglarz-Ward: Great! Thank you.

Dr. Swartz: The Illinois Early Learning Project website at www.illinoisearlylearning.org is a source of evidence-based reliable information on early caring education for parents, caregivers and teachers of young children. Thanks for listening and for helping the children in your home, classroom and community have a strong start in their early learning. 

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center

Intended audience(s):
  • Faculty / Trainer
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Reviewed: 2020