Supporting Children With Special Needs and Their Families- Administrators

Newcomer children and their families have experienced the difficult transition of leaving friends and family behind and are learning to adapt to their new country. Many have left behind their network of support. The special needs of a child may have been a non-issue in their home culture or may have been perceived in a different way. Your team’s support is vital to establishing successful communication. Provide your staff with resources and support to welcome a newcomer child with special needs into your program. Make certain your staff treats the child with special needs the way they would any child—by assessing him or her on an individual basis.

The Facts

Identify the child’s strengths and challenges and develop an individual education plan. This will establish simple, achievable goals with outcomes that enable the child to feel both successful and capable.

The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that the education of the individual be directed to the development of the individual’s full potential. In December, the United Nations observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As a UN signatory, Canada observes this day to promote an understanding of persons with disability issues.

Assess your program’s ability to accommodate a child with special needs.

  • Check for physical space and equipment that can be adapted or modified.
  • Establish policies and procedures that provide positive outcomes for children who need individual support.
  • Ensure that the health and safety standards of your program are maintained.
  • Provide additional support for child care workers to train, ask for assistance and meet the physical demands of the child.
  • Welcome input from staff about how administration can help them to do a better job.

Good communication starts at registration. Encourage your team to:

  • Schedule a meeting with a translator to assist with the conversation, if necessary.
  • Participate in the conversation as an active listener and recognize when it is a good time to continue.
  • Inform families of your program’s curriculum, activities, routines, classroom procedures and policies.
  • Provide the family with your handbook of policies and procedures along with arrival and departure information translated into different languages.
  • Ask questions to determine how best to support the child.
  • Use open-ended questions that avoid assumptions and encourage dialogue.
  • Provide the parents with an opportunity to disclose information.
  • Introduce parents to other parents with children enrolled in the program.
  • Introduce parents to the different child care workers in your program. Use biographies and bulletin board photos to familiarize parents with child care workers who are not present.
  • Develop a formal plan or strategy with your team to continue to learn more about the family.

Questions to Ask Parents at Registration:

  • Does your child have any allergies or special food requirements?
  • What is your child good at?
  • What does your child enjoy doing?
  • How can we help your child while he or she is in our care?
  • Are there some areas where your child needs extra support?
  • Are there any particular skills that need to be developed?
  • What are your expectations for your child in this program?
  • Are you aware of community supports available to help you with your child? Be sure to research referrals for the individual family, offer to help and then follow up.
  • How does your child function at home? Compare the child’s functioning at home to that in the learning environment.
  • Determine whether the child is using all of her or his capabilities in your program. In turn, your child care workers can work with the parents to integrate successful learning into the home.

Train and encourage your team to develop a relationship with the family.

  • Create a welcoming and inclusive environment. This encompasses different factors, from how you set up your space to how your child care workers react and respond to parents and their children. Use home languages to explain activities and portray images that help the parent and child feel included.
  • Encourage respectful interaction between children with special needs and children with different abilities.
  • Ask the parent how other children in the program can play and communicate with the child with special needs.
  • Conduct activities that allow participation on various levels, no matter what the child’s abilities.
  • Encourage newcomer parents to participate in group activities in the program.
  • Talk to parents and, when possible, arrange meetings.
  • Make positive comments in the child’s presence. Don’t focus on the negative. Inform parents what their child excels at and what’s going well.
  • Act as a source of information, contact, interpretation and support.
  • Collect information brochures from government support services, national and local organizations, websites, libraries and community resources and distribute them to parents. Follow up with the family while maintaining respect for their individual choices.

Form stronger parent partnerships with a communications book.

A daily communication book for all children in your program is a record of the child’s day and his or her activities, progress and moods. It also outlines upcoming events, issues and concerns. Encourage your team to talk to the family and ask how they would like to set up their child’s communication book. The child can also be involved in the creation of the communication book. It can be a useful tool to develop individualized two-way communication with the child’s family:

  • Paste pictures into the book to show different activities or experiences.
  • When there are serious concerns regarding the child’s care or their emotional or physical well-being, advise your team to discuss them in person.

Develop a policy to address observations that a child may have special needs.

Train your child care workers to observe and note atypical or unexpected behaviour and communicate with the parent as early as possible. How your team approaches a newcomer family could affect how the family responds and your future relationship.

  • Consider the best person on your team to talk with the family member about this observation.
  • Find a time to discuss any concerns without the child present.
  • Demonstrate respect for the family member and his or her culture and listen carefully to his or her responses.
  • Reflect on your own values, attitudes, perceptions and culture. How are they affecting your interaction with the family?
  • Provide parents with concrete examples of your concerns and be prepared with a list of community services and appropriate supports. Offer to give them referrals, if necessary.
  • Be positive, supportive and honest. Share examples of the child’s strengths and improvements with the parents.
  • Parents may feel this is a private matter. You will need to reassure them that your conversations regarding their child’s special needs are confidential.
  • Keep in mind that what you identify as a problem may not be viewed in this way by the family.
  • Help the family develop an action plan. Suggest next steps. Consider the family’s suggestions even if they are different from what you have in mind.
  • Reassure the family that you are happy to work with them to achieve the best outcome for their child.
  • Respect the newcomer family’s choices and value their opinions, even when they may differ from your own, and build the foundation for a stronger partnership.


United Nations Enable
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Child Rights Information Network
Inclusion in a School Age Setting, Inclusive Child Care Tips (1998) Wisconsin Child Care Improvement Project, Inc.
Kaczmarek, Louise (January, 2006) Beyond the Journal, Young Children On the Web, Supporting Families of Special Needs Children
Parents As Teachers: Centre for Professional Development and Enrichment (2008)
ConnectABILITY, Supported Inclusion Tip Sheet, Creating a Home/Child Care Communication Book

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