Reprinted from "First Responders for Young People" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3 (2), pp. 7, 8
When we welcome a child into a high-quality child care setting, we also welcome the child’s family. In the close and caring relationships we build with our families, we are sometimes the first community partners to see signs of distress. If a family is dealing with challenges—such as mental illness, addictions, family violence or abuse—trained child care providers can help the family find the supports they need. Sometimes a family arrives at a child care centre already receiving community services. In that case, the child care providers must be ready to work hand-in-hand with these services to properly support the child and family.
In one case, a single father we worked with in our inclusive group daycare centre struggled with his own physical and mental health problems as he tried to raise his young son. He loved his child, but needed help and information to figure out how to parent a very active toddler with developmental delays and emotional and behavioural problems. Every day, at drop-off or pick-up times, he and the centre staff would talk about difficulties that were coming up at home around mealtime, bathing, bedtime, toilet training, behaviour, learning and making friends.
We became partners with this father. We were a part of the team of professionals supporting him. This included a community health nurse and provincial ministry social worker. These professionals worked with him around issues such as his disabilities, housing needs and transportation, while daycare staff focused on providing parenting help and meeting the child’s needs. Soon we arranged for the child to receive speech therapy, physiotherapy and help for emotional and behavioural concerns. The Supported Child Development Program,1 which helps families with children who have special needs, was also involved.
This example shows the importance of quality child care to vulnerable children and families. Child care nurtures and stimulates young children. It supports families in their parenting role. It can provide isolated families with a sense of community. When parents are under a lot of stress, child care offers a much-needed break. For some families, the support of child care—to both children and parents—means being able to maintain the child in the home. Child care providers can support parents by listening, offering parenting suggestions, making referrals to community resources, and connecting families to other families.
Child care providers are often the first to identify early signs of difficulty in a child. If children need extra support because of developmental delays or disorders, health problems or emotional or behavioural issues, child care staff can make referrals. We often connect families to speech and language pathologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and mental health services, as well as the Supported Child Development Program. Child care staff experienced in including children with special needs know how to work in partnership with parents and therapists to create individual plans for children and then to carry them out.
If children have very complex needs, child care programs can arrange for extra staffing support through the Supported Child Development Program. Every time a new child with extra needs enters a child care program, the staff must learn the specific skills required to support the child.
For more info
Visit the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC at www.cccabc.bc.ca
Child care offers children the security of stable, ongoing care and consistent routines in lives that may, at times, be chaotic. It provides children with caring and supportive adults they can trust. Children make friends with other children. They learn how to share, solve problems and get along. They learn how to accept differences in themselves and in others. The social lessons of respect, empathy and tolerance that happen at child care can last a lifetime. And while they are busy learning, they are also having fun.
Like families, child care programs also need support. When child care programs have strong, well-trained staff, and when they are properly funded and connected in their communities, they fit naturally into a range of services that can work together to support the families who need them. But the reality is that child care does not have enough public funding and support. It is a fragmented and fragile system. There is not enough high quality, affordable child care for all the families who need it. It is enormously stressful for families to run into poor quality, lack of space, long wait-lists and high fees when they are looking for child care.
We fail our most vulnerable families when we do not consistently provide a service that brings so many benefits. For all children and families, we must press for a universal, high quality, publicly funded, accessible and affordable child care system.
About the authorRuth has worked in inclusive group child care for over 30 years, with a focus on supporting children with special needs in regular child care settings. She is Head Teacher at Langara Child Development Centre and on the board of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC.
Ministry of Children and Family Development Supported Child Development: see www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/supported_childcare.