For countless American families, finding the right childcare provider for their little ones can be a real challenge. This is especially true for parents and guardians who are navigating available childcare options for their child with autism or other special needs. While many parents might feel they’re alone in their struggles, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 59 American children has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), while approximately 7 million children with special needs were served by public schools throughout the country during the 2017-18 period.
But even well before enrollment in school takes place, early childcare plays an important role in cognitive, physical, and social development. The public demand for engaging and high-quality early childcare programs continues to grow, which means that childcare providers need to do more to stand out to parents for all the right reasons. For those organizations who have made it their mission to provide these services to children with special needs, it’s imperative to ensure both industry regulations and personal priorities are met with the care provided.
That all begins well before any child or parent even walks through the door. If you’re exploring the process of starting a childcare center for children with autism and special needs, you’ll need to do your due diligence and ensure your organization will be able to provide the proper accommodations for families in your community. Here are some essential steps to help you get started.
Obtain Proper Licenses
To open any kind of childcare facility, you will need to thoroughly research the licenses required for your state or local municipality. You will also need to comply with regulations for both small businesses and for daycare or childcare facilities. Organizations geared towards children with disabilities or special needs will also need to obtain official documents pertaining to how these individuals need to be served within your location. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Childcare and Early Education can point you in the right direction. Parents will certainly make sure that your facility complies with regulations, so make sure you are authorized to operate and that your organization will be in excellent standing.
Once you’ve determined the right spot for your facility, you will need to use child-centered design strategies. Although many young children with autism can find tremendous success in traditional childcare environments, there are challenges associated with autism that may impact how you choose to set up your childcare center. While some children with special needs may experience overstimulation when faced with too many colors or sounds, others may thrive under those same conditions. It’s a good idea to design your facilities with both options, allowing you to provide the kind of care each individual child needs at any given moment. Having quiet spaces will likely be key, as well as giving careful consideration to every single element of the overall design. What makes sense for other childcare facilities may not be aligned with your mission.
For more on child-centered design, see: Creating Spaces that Work for Children with Autism
Hire Qualified Staff
Maintaining any successful childcare center will often come down to the staff you employ. That’s particularly relevant if you’re a care provider for children with special needs. You’ll want to hire those who have the experience, training, and compassion necessary to devote their careers to providing high-quality care for children with disabilities and special needs. It’s vital to take your time during the hiring process, rather than rushing to fill vacant positions; otherwise, you might end up making a hire who is not qualified to provide the right kind of care. As some children will need or benefit from special services (like specialized therapies), you will need staff members who are equipped and certified to perform these duties -- and to do so with the level of empathy and patience that parents expect.
Starting your own business is never an easy task, nor is providing childcare a job for the weak of heart. If you plan on opening a childcare facility for children with special needs and considerations, you’ll likely need to be even more devoted to your cause in order for your dream to become reality. But if you follow these steps, you’ll be that much closer to achieving your goal of providing the best possible care for deserving kids.