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Comments Sought on Effort to Promote Inclusive Early-Childhood Programs

The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services plan to release a statement encouraging more inclusive early-childhood programs, and would like public comments on their ideas before they are finalized.

The policy statement draft is online, as is the executive summary. In the statement, the departments note that families of children with disabilities "face significant barriers to accessing inclusive high-quality early-childhood programs, and too many preschool children with disabilities continue to receive special education services in separate settings, as opposed to the least-restrictive environment." In order for young children with disabilities to get off to the strongest start in life, the statement contends that they need to be exposed to "rich experiences where they can learn in the context of play and everyday interactions and engage with their peers with and without disabilities."

The policy statement advances inclusion efforts by:

  • Providing a definition of inclusion in early-childhood programs;
  • Offering a scientific underpinning of why inclusion in early childhood is a good thing;
  • Highlighting the legal obligations that organizations have to include young children with disabilities in preschool;
  • Suggesting plans for state and local action, and
  • Identifying free resources to support inclusion. 

For example, the policy statement suggests that states build on existing early-childhood efforts by making sure that representatives on advisory panels are broad-based. Special education should be represented, as well as Head Start officials, Medicaid, and mental health service providers, among others. All of those entities might interact with families and children who have disabilities, the policy statement says. 

The draft statement also encourages local districts to develop formal partnerships with community organizations such as Head Start or Early Head Start, which may be providing services to young children with developmental disabilities.

The deadline to offer comments on the statement is 6 p.m. EDT on Friday, and they can be made through this link

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