Things to consider
No matter what your child's age, ability or circumstances, all parents would probably think about:
- what sort of childcare would work best for your family - a childminder, nursery or after-school care?
- is the carer registered with a Health and Social Care Trust (if your child is under eight years old)?
- will activities be suitable for your child's ability?
- is the carer/setting safe, friendly and do you think your child will be happy in the environment?
You may also need to think about questions like:
- does the carer have experience in looking after a child with a similar disability, and if not, would they be happy for you to show them what’s needed?
- how much specialist care does your child need and is suitable for training available locally?
- does your child have therapy or appointments that they need to go to in the time they will be cared for and can your playgroup, nursery or school take your child to these appointments?
Children with medical needs
You will need to clarify if the carer you choose requires specialist training or equipment as carers often have to have specific training to give medication. As a parent, you will have been shown how to give medication to your child by your doctor, nurse or health visitor.
You can ask the same person to give this training to your child's new carer.
Your social worker or area special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) should be able to tell you more.
Early Years special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs)
Nurseries and schools may have a SENCO who will create opportunities for children with disabilities to enjoy all the activities the nursery or school has to offer.
Early Years area SENCOs (sometimes called inclusion officers) give additional support to nurseries and schools by giving training, offering specialist advice and liaising with schools when the child is ready to go to full time education.
SENCOs and area SENCOs can give a lot of advice and support for parents who have children with special needs.
Childminders look after children in the childminder's own home. They may be parents themselves and might have cared for a child with disabilities before. Visit the childminder to see the environment and if the other children are happy playing.
Talk to the childminder about the sort of activities they do and the care your child needs. You can use a childminder for all day, before-school or after-school care.
Nurseries are usually for children up to five years old and places are usually given to children who need them the most. Talk to your social worker to see if there is a place in your nursery.
You may be offered a part-time place for free where you can pay the extra to make it up to a full-time place if you want to. You may also be able to find a place for your child at a private day nursery.
Pre-schools or playgroups
Pre-schools provide care and early education for children aged between three and five years old often in sessions lasting from two and a half hours to four hours. However, some are now beginning to offer full-time places. Most are open during term time only but check locally to see what is available near you.
As with day nurseries, free part-time early education places are normally available and additional support may be provided for children with disabilities through the area SENCO.
There are many out-of-school clubs with some schools also becoming 'extended schools' which offer breakfast clubs (from 8.00 am) and after-school clubs (typically until 6.00 pm).
Find out from your child's school if these clubs are available.
Whichever service you decide on
Remember, you are the expert on your child.
To get the best from childcare:
- give the carer clear and detailed information about your child's needs, medication, appointments, likes and dislikes
- take your time and visit the childminder, pre-school/playgroup or nursery (more than once if you want to)
- agree a 'settling-in' period where you stay with your child to see how the carer and child get on together, then build up to leaving for short periods of time until you are comfortable to leave your child for the session
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 sets out two main duties for childcare providers:
- not to treat a child with disabilities 'less favourably'
- to make 'reasonable adjustments' for children with disabilities
An honest and open discussion about your child's needs with the childcare provider, involving, for example, an occupational therapist or psychologist where necessary, can often lead to a better understanding of your child's needs and how these can be managed.