Inclusion In Centre-based Child Care Services

Inclusion in child care services reflects the acceptance in society of the principles of social justice - that children of all ability levels and cultural and ethnic backgrounds have the same intrinsic value and are entitled to the same opportunities for participation, acceptance and belonging in child care.

Benefits Of Inclusion

Inclusion can benefit all those involved.

For the child with additional needs the benefits of inclusion can be:

  • the opportunity to participate in the typical experiences of childhood
  • the opportunity to be with other children and form friendships and develop other social skills
  • the opportunity for natural learning of skills in real situations
  • access to peer models
  • the opportunity to gain understanding about the diversity of people in the community
  • the opportunity to gain skills and confidence to pursue inclusion in other settings (ie regular schools, recreational groups)

For families the benefits of inclusion are:

  • the opportunity to pursue work or study or to simply have some "time out" from the carer role.
  • the opportunity to meet with, and share knowledge and experiences with other families.
  • the opportunity to have siblings attending the same service
  • the opportunity to develop relationships with child care staff and to benefit from sharing their respective knowledge and experience

For child care workers the benefits of inclusion can be:

  • opportunities to expand skills, knowledge and professional competence
  • the opportunity to develop a positive attitude towards inclusion and people with additional needs
  • increased confidence in working with all children
  • increased knowledge of other services available in the community
  • the establishment of contacts and networking with other professionals
  • the development of an effective teamwork philosophy

For the other children and their families the benefits of inclusion are:

  • the opportunity to meet and share experiences with people who are varied in ability and backgrounds
  • the opportunity to develop positive attitudes towards differences in children
  • the opportunity to extend skills and knowledge

Childhood is a time when we start to develop our identity and self concept.  Children's ideas about who they are and how they feel about themselves are influenced by the people and environment around them.  The stereotypes, prejudices, racism and discrimatory practices that children encounter influence their attitudes about themselves and others.  Therefore, it is important that all people in children's services help to provide positive experiences and promote positive attitudes in children about ethnicity, race, skin colour, gender and ability in relation to self and others.  Through such efforts child care workers are helping to promote a fair and just society for all.


Inclusion is supported through legal, moral, rational and empirical factors.

Legal Factors.  The Commonwealth and State Governments have enacted various Legislative Acts which support inclusive practices and make discrimination unlawful.

Moral Factors.  Given the general community's acceptance of the principle of social justice, inclusion is simply the "right" thing to do.

Rational Factors.  As all children benefit from opportunities to accept, respect and appreciate the diversity of all persons in our society, inclusion is an appropriate policy for child care services.

Empirical Factors.  Research shows that inclusive environments can benefit children's social, emotional, cognitive, language and physical development.  Segregated services have been shown to only provide limited benefit to children's overall development.  In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that inclusion is harmful for children.

Under the Commonwealth's Disability Discrimination Act (s24) it is unlawful for a person who provides goods or services to discrimination against another person on the grounds of the other persons disability or that of any of that other person's associates:

  1. by refusing to provide the other person with others goods or services or to make those facilities available to the other person; or
  2. in the terms or conditions on which the first- mentioned person provides the other person with those goods or services or make those facilities available to the other person;  or
  3. in the manner in which the first-mention person provides the other person with those goods and services or makes those facilities available to the other person.

Under the Commonwealth's Racial Discrimination Act s9(1) "it is unlawful for a person to do any act involving a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of any human right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social or cultural or any other field of public life."

This states Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on basis of many attributes including race and impairment, under s46(1) in the goods and services area by

  1. failing to supply the goods or services; or
  2. in the terms on which goods and services are supplied
  3. in the way in which services are provided; or
  4. by treating the other person unfavourably in any way in connection with the supply of goods and services.

The New South Wales Regulations requires the licensee "meets the individual needs of children with disabilities and other special needs".


Key Factors To Successful Inclusion

The success of the program depends on a range of child, peer, staff, administrative, environmental, family, and community factors.  Some key factors that do influence its success include:

  • a positive attitude towards inclusion must be held by all those involved in the service
  • a positive attitude towards the child
  • recognising the importance of working closely with the family of the child with the additional needs
  • appropriate preparation of the environment and the program
  • ability to work as a team member

Creating an inclusive child care environment

Have an anti-bias approach in every aspect of your program.  (Anti- bias literally means against bias, free of bias, prejudice and/or preconceived ideas towards people from cultures, socio-economic backgrounds or religious beliefs that differ from your own.  This should be extended to include people with additional needs and a non sexist agenda.

According to Tarrant and Jones (1996) staff members need to

  • be aware of the backgrounds and particular needs of the children/families attending the service
  • develop a program that reflects the cultural and social needs of all the children/families in attendance
  • draw on the skills, talents, knowledge and expertise of people from other cultures.  Diversity should be shared and appreciated
  • be aware that it is not enough to offer the occasional "multicultural" afternoon tea, for example, and assume the anti-bias aspect of the program has been addressed.  This approach is often described as the "tourist approach" as it only happens once in a while, with only a brief glimpse of different cultures.  Emphasize the day- to- day living, not just special holidays and customs
  • provide a good role model and actively encourage children to have a positive approach towards minority groups.  Watch for biased or stereotyped comments or teasing.  Correct children when this situation occurs and explain how hurtful this behaviour can be
  • involve males and females equally in both "housekeeping" tasks, such as cleaning, and in any games or activities being provided
  • be aware of the possible need for
    • modifications to the environment to enable physical access
    • printed materials or posters in community languages - families can be asked for assistance with translations.  Try to find pictures, books, music and other items representative of the children's cultures.
  • Reflect an anti-bias approach in every aspect of the program every day of operation.

Be aware of attitudes.  In order to create an inclusive environment child care workers must first examine their own attitudes, recognise their own prejudices and learn to deal with them in a positive way.  The challenge is for all child care workers to empower themselves and others to confront discrimination issues.  Child care workers may benefit from attending training on an anti-bias approach in childcare.   Try building up, and making available, a collection of written resources - books or articles - on inclusion for staff, parents and children.  Use team meetings to discuss incidents that have occurred so that you may share insights into ways to deal with future situations.

Communicate your philosophy in newsletters or meetings with parents.  Share with parents some of the situations that can arise in the care environment and brainstorm appropriate responses.  Describe strategies for building tolerance in children, such as providing opportunities for positive interactions with people who have additional needs or different ethnic /cultural backgrounds, and talking with children when you notice examples of unfairness and prejudices.

With children, use teachable moments - be alert for comments that reveal misunderstandings by children about themselves or others - use these teachable moments, don't ignore them.  Prejudicial statements need immediate contradiction by the adult present.  Alert children when their remarks might hurt someone else's feelings and remind them that it is not acceptable to say such things.  When you sense that remarks are purposely intended to hurt another child, then treat this the same way as you would treat aggression.  Develop children's empathy and acknowledge children's positive actions and behaviours.

Develop a rapport with parents.  Parents are the most significant people in children's lives and the best outcomes for a child are achieved when child care workers have a good working relationship with parents, and when parents and child care workers reinforce each others efforts.  Create an atmosphere in which the parents as well as the child feel welcomed.  Demonstrate genuine respect, trust and support for parents.  Invite them to tell you about themselves and their child/ren.  Encourage parent involvement in your service.  Let them know that although you know about child development/ group management, you see the parents as having insights about their child which will be invaluable in planning appropriate care.

Prepare your environment and program so that it reflects the community in which it is based.

"All children growing up in Australia today need to be given valid images of Australian society as a whole.  It could be argued that children in a service where cultural backgrounds are all similar are in the greatest need of raised awareness of the variety of Australian people.  Similarly, in environments where there are few people with disabilities, or few senior citizens, there is a need to expose children to the notion that people come in many shapes, sizes and physical conditions".
                                                            (Sebastian- Nickell and Milne, 1992).

Ensure that your service is physically accessible, even if no children with motor disabilities are currently enrolled.  Being prepared shows parents your willingness to include all children in your program.

Be part of a team.  You are not expected to be experts on cultural practices, positioning, makaton, medical procedures or multiple languages.  These are all areas of expertise that other professionals are trained to provide.  As a child care worker, your role is to facilitate a team approach to service delivery so children receive a service that is an amalgamation of all the people involved (children, parents, co-workers, group leaders/ directors, therapists, consultants,Support workers).

When people work together they can often accomplish more than individuals can when working independently.  Work at developing and maintaining positive working relationships with other staff, your management committee and parents.  In child care services, where there are few staff, it can be especially beneficial for staff to build networks with other child care services and other community professionals in related fields.  Being prepared in this way can go a long way towards reducing your concerns about your ability to meet the needs of children placed in your care.

Sebastian-Nickell and Milne (1992) Care and Education of Young Children.  Longman: Melbourne.
Tarrant, Sue and Jones, Alison (1996) Before 9 and After 3: A Handbook for Outside School Hours Care.  Pademelon Press: Sydney.


Inclusion of children with additional needs

As you would with any child, bring together information from the parents and your observations of the chilld.  Consider the goals for the child that have been determined through your interview with the parents.

Get to know the child.  Find out what their likes and dislikes are and where their strengths lie.

Assess your program and child care environment in terms of it's suitability to meet the child's needs.  Programs should provide developmentally suitably activities and experiences for all the children in care.  Consider the size of your group, the mix of ages, safety issues, use of resources and space, noises levels and timetabling.  Be prepared to make changes or modifications as necessary.

Check out what resources your service already has, what you might need and how any additional resources may be obtained.

Let the child get used to the program gradually.  Introduce the child to the other children.  Allow the child to participate at their own level in the activities planned.   Respect a child's decision not to participate at times.  All children should be free to choose organised activities or initiate their own play.

If meeting the individual needs of a child is outside your area of prior learning then embrace the challenge-one step at a time. Firstly remember for all the unique, additional needs that individual children might have, all children have the same basic needs.  And as carers you are experienced at meeting those basic needs.

Next you need to identify your concerns.  For example "I don't know how to communicate with a child who doesn't speak English", "I don't know how to pick up or carry a child with low muscle tone!", "I don't know what to say to a child who has experienced the death of a parent".

Now you can move into problem solving.  Work with your co-workers, group leader/director/or management committee. You need the support of these people when challenges arise.  You may need time, training, resources and encouragement.  They may be able to provide more information and recommend helpful resources.  Keep them apprised of developments.   Let them know what actions you would like to pursue.

Seek out information.  (Make sure the sources are reliable). General information on a topic provides a good starting point for learning and knowing the more specific questions that you may need to ask parents and others.

If appropriate, talk to other professionals.  Find out what support they can offer or suggestions they have.

Keep records of your actions to support each child and your observations of each child.  Records make it possible to look back and see the real progress that you and the child have made, thus they can be a source of encouragement.

Communicate with the other members of your team, including the parents.  Give feedback stated in positive terms.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Speak about your needs.

Acknowledge and celebrate your successes.