Finding child care for special-needs children challenging
School has begun for children all around Texas, but for families with special needs, obtaining child care and after-school care can be challenging. As a parent of a child with autism, finding child care is a battle.
When searching for child care or after-school care, I am often faced with providers telling me they are not equipped, not trained or lack adequate staff to accommodate children with special needs.
Many child care workers are not comfortable caring for children with disabilities because they do not know enough about what it entails, nor do they know how to address the needs of the child.
This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated a 15 percent increase nationally to 1 in 59 children being diagnosed with autism, from 1 in 68 in two years previous. A study conducted by the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation on the prevalence of autism in San Antonio showed more than 30,000 adults and children are living with autism — 1 in 79 people.
Despite these statistics, child care for children with special needs is in short supply, leaving few options for parents who are still working after their child gets out of school. The few quality programs available for children with special needs cannot come close to meeting the high demand.
A recent study on licensed child care facilities for Bexar County showed that there is only a small subset of facilities for children with special needs compared to those for children without.
Unfortunately, the shortage of quality care for children with special needs is not the only issue. Other challenges include unsupportive providers, safety concerns, lack of accommodation, unaffordable child care, expulsion from care due to behavioral issues related to disability and the child “aging out” of child care.
This puts parents in difficult situations. To care for their child, some parents have to quit their job or go on welfare because they are unable to work and care for their child simultaneously.
Families of children with special needs are more likely to have more economic difficulties and less job stability than families of children without special needs, according to researchers Helen Ward and Lisa Morris.
For single parents of children with disabilities, like myself, it is critical to obtain child care. Unfortunately, I have been in the situation of having to quickly find child care for my son or lose my job. After rejections from several child care centers, which stated they were not “equipped” to care for him or he was not a “good fit” in their program, I was thankfully able to find Respite Care of San Antonio.
However, like many other parents of children with special needs, as my child gets older he will “age out,” (as he did at Respite Care) and I still need child care for him. But providers for older children with special needs are scarce and costly.
While the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and requires child care centers to attempt to include children with special needs, many still say that providers frequently violate the ADA rules, and there is not much parents can do about it.
A lawsuit could take years to resolve, by which point the imminent need has passed. For families struggling financially, caring for a child with special needs and working, finding the time and money to file a lawsuit every time a child care center violates the ADA is not feasible.
Because of the growing number of children with autism, it is imperative to train providers on autism and special needs, so these children can be kept safe while their parents continue to work. It is vital that all child care and after-school programs provide access to this population.
To ensure this happens, speak with your congressional representatives and ask them to write a bill for mandated autism and special needs training in child care and to vote to increase funding for the Child Care Developmental Block Grant.
Providing more training and funding will allow for inclusion, safety and quality care for children with special needs.
Creating more inclusive and accessible child care programs also benefits families by giving their children an environment to receive adequate care, while allowing parents to work and sustain their families.
Bianca Ramirez is a licensed master social worker, and an activist for disability rights and child care. She is also a single parent and is working on her clinical license to become a licensed clinical social worker. She is a member of the board of directors for the Autism Society of Texas.