When you are approached by a parent of a child with an identified SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability), it is understandable to feel anxious and to doubt the ability of your setting to meet the child’s needs. However, you don’t need to be an expert on a diagnosis such as autism, Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy, you need to be an expert on the child.
It’s important to gather information before the child starts and to find out their interests and stage of development, as you would with any other child. You could use the Early Years Outcomes Document or, if you need more detail, the Early Years Support Developmental Journal might be useful. If there are other professionals involved, such as a Speech and Language Therapist or Physiotherapist, then ask for written parental permission to contact them for advice, ideally before the child starts.
If the child has any medical needs, be sure to seek advice from a health visitor and to access specialist training if necessary. It’s advisable to contact your insurance company to tell them that the child will be starting and to ensure you have followed all necessary procedures.
Remember that parents are the experts on their child and that many parents of children with SEND will have read more up-to-date information than some professionals. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions or to admit you’re unsure, parents will welcome your honesty and be pleased you’re asking their opinion.
Some children with SEND in the Early Years will need access to increased staff:child ratios if their needs are to be met and, as a provider, the Equality Act 2010 says you need to make “Reasonable Adjustments” to do this. However, the local authority also has a duty and the 2014/15 SEND Code of Practice states:
5.59 Local authorities must ensure that all providers delivering funded early education places meet the needs of children with SEN and disabled children. In order to do this local authorities should make sure funding arrangements for early education reflect the need to provide suitable support for these children.
If you are struggling to access additional funding, the booklet “Childcare for Children with Families with Disabled Children” has some useful template letters to use.
Most importantly, don’t doubt your skills, you’re in a position to make a huge difference to a child and family and lay the building blocks for their future. What a privilege it is to work in the early years!
About the author
Kathryn is a specialist early years teacher and trainer who has worked with children for nearly 25 years, including 10 years as an Area SENCO. She is an ELKLAN Speech and Language Trainer and regularly writes and delivers courses for early years practitioners on all aspects of SEND. You can follow her on Twitter @kathrynstinton, find her on Facebook or visit her website for more information.