The 1960s was a remarkable decade for the US as the outcomes of the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision affected social policy, politics, and education greatly. During this period the federal government was involved in the protection of civil rights for all it citizens and ensuring that the laws were enforced. The educational system was closely examined and new initiatives were implemented leading to significant reforms. Through these reforms, it was discovered that special education was a string attached to the system and could not be left behind. Since then the federal government has promoted initiatives to benefit and support children with disabilities.
Recently the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services jointly released a policy statement, Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs (ED &HHS, 2015). The statement highlights the:
- Challenges encountered by families to access inclusive programs for their children with disabilities
- Research –based benefits that children gain when participating in high-quality inclusion programs, and
- National and state resources available to early childhood professionals, and families to support high-quality individualized programming and inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood programs
The most significant strength of the policy is its recommendations for action. The recommendations are well written using sound and clear language and divided into two main groups: recommendations for States and local jurisdictions and agencies that provide services to young children and are stated as follow:
Recommendations for State Action
- Create a State-Level Interagency Taskforce and Plan for Inclusion
- Ensure State Policies Support High-Quality Inclusion
- Set Goals and Track Data
- Review and Modify Resource Allocations
- Ensure Quality Rating Frameworks are Inclusive
- Strengthen Accountability and Build Incentive Structures
- Build a Coordinated Early Childhood Professional Development (PD) System
- Implement Statewide Supports for Children’s Social-Emotional and Behavioral Health
- Raise Public Awareness
Recommendations for Local Action
- Partner with Families
- Adhere to Legal Provision of Supports and Services in Inclusive Settings with IFSPs/IEPs
- Assess and Improve the Quality of Inclusion in Early Childhood Programs
- Review and Modify Resource Allocation
- Enhance Professional Development
- Establish an Appropriate Staffing Structure and Strengthen Staff Collaboration
- Ensure Access to Specialized Supports
- Develop Formal Collaborations with Community Partners
While the recommendations present a good level of feasibility, the local recommendation that calls to “Enhance Professional Development” for the teachers could present challenges. This recommendation places high expectations on staff for continuing education. Unfortunately, many early childhood providers have only basic education in child development and limited time and finances for professional development.
The recommendation indicates that, “High-quality staff should have knowledge, strong competencies, which include competencies in culturally and linguistically responsive practice, and positive attitudes and beliefs about inclusion and disability in order to foster the development of all children. In addition, they should have a strong understanding of universal design and universal design for learning.” (ED &HHS, 2015, p. 16). When taking a close look at the early childhood workforce it is well known that is fragmented and in crisis. Beside the reasons mentioned above, there is a high turnover, instability, and a few workers with appropriate credentials, and these could eventually hurt the consistency of care. Attainment of quality workers for any center is hard as well, especially when a miserable pay scale is not attractive to highly qualified professionals.
To expect that early childhood providers obtain those skills and competencies states and jurisdictions should provide resources to build a strong, knowledgeable workforce and infrastructure. How can we expect early childhood providers to possess the knowledge, the skills, and attitudes to ensure high quality teaching? How can we attain and retain teachers with a sustainable capacity to provide optimal services to children with special needs within their classrooms? How can we expect the early childhood teachers to work collaboratively with a variety of specialist who know little about early childhood curricula, standards, and expectations? Resources are needed to create innovative, accessible supports to meet these expectations.
The recommendations must be seen as an opportunity to enhance early childhood professional development rather than a barrier. While we can ask many questions and list several challenges, we need to see this recommendation as the stepping-stone for providers to undo mindsets, raise awareness about inclusion within their own centers, advocate for training, ultimately including children with special needs in their programs.
Brown v. Board of Education.(n.d) Retrieved from http://www.civilrights.org/education/brown/?referrer=https://www.google.com/
Policy statement on inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood programs.(2015). Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/earlylearning/joint-statement-full-text.pdf
Isabel Lainez, Ph