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News Release

March 14, 2006

Improving Child Care Helps Kids With Special Needs, Study Shows

Improving the overall quality of child-care programs can be an effective way to support the inclusion of children with special needs, according to a new study by a University of Guelph professor.

Donna Lero of the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition evaluated an innovative program in Nova Scotia designed to improve overall program quality and promote effective inclusion in child-care centres. The project, “Partnerships for Inclusion — Nova Scotia” combined quality assessments, on-site consultation, collaborative planning with centre staff and professional development for child-care workers.

Lero, who holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Families and Work at Guelph and chairs the Ontario government’s Best Start Expert Panel on Quality and Human Resources, examined the short- and long-term effects of the intervention. She conducted the research with Sharon Hope Irwin, director of SpeciaLink, the National Centre for Child Care Inclusion.

Although the study was specific to the Maritime province, Lero said the findings are applicable nationwide. “It demonstrates the importance of governments taking a systematic approach to enhancing the quality of early learning and child-care programs.”

Similar efforts are under way in a number of other provinces, she added.

The intervention resulted in dramatic effects on the measured quality of the participating child-care programs, the study found. After six months, 80 per cent of the child-care centres received ratings of “good” or “very good,” compared with only 27 per cent at the start of the project. Improvements included enhanced learning activities, extended teacher-child conversations and the adoption of more child-centred curricula.

“Many of the participating early childhood educators also reported a renewed sense of excitement and commitment to quality and became more confident and willing to include children with a variety of disabilities,” Lero said.

Directors and early childhood educators also noted positive changes in the children. They appeared to enjoy the programs more and benefited from changes in the environment that also allowed children with a variety of abilities to participate at their own level, the researchers said.

“The results of this project remind us that improvements in overall quality also make a difference for children with special needs,” Irwin said.

The researchers noted that although this type of infrastructure support to enhance quality is highly effective, it is not a panacea. Improvements to quality must go hand-in-hand with ensuring that early childhood educators have the education and training needed to provide stimulating programs to a wide variety of children, and that wages and working conditions are improved to address recruitment and retention problems.

Provincial governments must also ensure that child-care programs have the funding and staff supports they need to include children with special needs, said the researchers. Both Lero and Irwin are concerned that current plans to cancel federal-provincial agreements on early learning and care will be a setback for Canada’s child-care programs and for young children with special needs.

This is the latest in a series of research projects Lero has conducted on child care in Canada. She played an active role in the federally funded “You Bet I Care!” studies published in 2000.

The full report is available on the Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being's website.

Prof. Donna Lero, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53914/

Sharon Hope Irwin, SpeciaLink
(902) 562-1662/

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824- 4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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