Inclusion in California Early Learning and Care
All of California’s families deserve high-quality early learning and care options for their children. For the families of children with disabilities, this need is even more pressing. Despite efforts to include children with disabilities in subsidized early learning and care, less than 2% of children under age 5 in subsidized early learning and care in California have a disability.
SRI Education and the California Department of Education are working to better understand and improve the inclusion of children with disabilities in subsidized early learning and care in the state through a 4-year grant from the Administration for Children and Families.
Full description of project work
Despite numerous initiatives over many years aimed at increasing the percentage of children with disabilities who participate in early learning and care settings with their same-aged peers without disabilities and receive services in that location, the majority of preschool-aged children with disabilities in California continue to receive their services in segregated settings. To better understand the facilitators of and barriers to inclusion, SRI International and the California Department of Education (CDE) are collaborating for a 4-year (2019–2023) research-policy partnership grant funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Development in the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Inclusion of children with disabilities in early learning and care has three critical components: access to a wide range of learning opportunities and settings, the provision of individualized approaches and accommodations to promote the child’s active participation in learning, and the system-level supports that the individuals and organizations providing inclusive services need (DEC/NAEYC, 2009). SRI and CDE are conducting a mixed methods study of the inclusion of children with disabilities under age 5 in subsidized early learning and care in California. The project’s four objectives are to (1) describe the status of children with disabilities in subsidized early learning and care; (2) identify the facilitators of and barriers to the inclusion of children with disabilities in subsidized early learning and care; (3) identify strategies with a high likelihood of increasing the facilitators and decreasing the barriers, including policy revisions; and (4) enhance the state’s capacity to participate in and conduct ongoing research to improve the inclusion of children with disabilities in subsidized early learning and care.
This study addresses four overarching research questions: (1) To what extent do families of children with disabilities access subsidized early learning and care? (2) For children with disabilities who are receiving subsidized care, what is the extent of their participation in high-quality learning environments and activities? (3) What supports are available for child care and school system personnel and families to promote the full inclusion of children with disabilities in subsidized early learning and care? and (4) What national, state, and local policies and other supports are needed to increase the access and participation of children with disabilities in subsidized care?
To answer these questions, the study team is using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data collection methods. Quantitative methods include analysis of state administrative data sets on subsidized early learning and care and special education and statewide surveys of preschool special education administrators and child care center directors. Interviews with key informants and case studies in six communities examine the ways the child care and special education sectors are or are not working together to support inclusion. Community data collection includes interviews with families, child care directors and teachers, special education directors and teachers, and other related services personnel. Observations in early learning and care classrooms examine the quality of the individualized support for children with disabilities. Community-level data collection focuses on what is working and what is standing in the way of including children with disabilities in subsidized care.
Key stakeholder groups in California are being engaged during the study and contribute to interpreting and applying the results within the state context. The study also will be strengthened through the ongoing guidance of a group of nationally known researchers in child care and inclusion.