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Building Post-COVID ECE Systems that Serve Children with Disabilities

A new fact sheet from Child Trends  outlines the specific difficulties of COVID-19 for families who are caring for young children with disabilities, and suggests issues for states to consider as ECE programs begin to re-open. The fact sheet also examines the interrelationship between disability, race, and ethnicity.

Key takeaways from the fact sheet are listed below.

  • Access to early intervention and early childhood special education is critical to child development and learning for children with disabilities.

  • Children with disabilities receive services in child care programs, Head Start, and schools. When COVID-19 forced many of these ECE programs to close, access to many of these services was cut off.

  • ECE programs play an important role in early identification of developmental delays by providing or referring families to developmental screening.

  • Evidence documents the relationship between race, ethnicity, and disability status, noting that children of color have simultaneously been under- and overrepresented in terms of disability identification. 

  • The ECE system in the US is fragmented — multiple agencies regulate and fund ECE programs, leading to different guidance being given and enacted across states. The disconnect creates challenges to monitoring and responding in a unified way to potential disparities related to race, ethnicity, and/or disability status.

  • There are multiple Impacts from COVID-19 on children with disabilities and their families:

    • Limited access to accommodations and materials: Early interventionists and early childhood special educators specialize in adaptation of play-based and educational activities. In a distance learning environment or a remote early intervention session, certain adaptations may be difficult or impossible to make.

    • New roles for families in therapy and learning: Families are now tasked with supporting children’s learning, but typically lack expertise in special education, how to adapt activities, or the ability to navigate technology to meet their child’s needs.

    • Compounded social isolation: Prior to COVID-19, families of young children with disabilities already experienced more social isolation than other families (lack of travel opportunities, hospitalization, lack of time/energy due to caregiving responsibilities). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of isolation has been compounded by social distancing mandates.

    • Gaps in health insurance coverage: One in six American workers (about 30 million) have filed unemployment claims since the pandemic began. Young children with disabilities who have insurance through their parent’s employer may face a loss of coverage — particularly challenging for children who receive frequent therapy or require regular medical appointments.

  • How can policymakers help?

    • Partner with experts and across state agencies by prioritizing information sharing.

    • Provide guidance for ECE programs that include considerations for young children with disabilities.

    • Consider in-home services to support parents who may need or want to keep their young children at home to reduce the risk of transmission.

    • Create plans for additional closures and disruption of services.

Click here to download and read the fact sheet in full.

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