Day Care – Joys and Heartbreak

Mel was born into a typical American family with two working parents.  Being a stay at home mom was not at option.  Day care was going to be a necessity.  That was the reality of our family  structure.

To back up a little.  I had not received prenatal testing, it was not standard practice in 1996. Having a child with special needs, like Spina Bifida, a was not something I even considered into the plan.  Why should I, we had no know risk factors for any birth difficulties. The plan was simple. Mel would go to daycare, like her brother.

When Mel’s bother, Coleman was born, I selected an in home provider,  I wanted a grandmother style of care for my son during his first years.  I felt, he would experience more cuddle time, more attention and love.  Ms Corina had been that provider as she ran a very small daycare close by our home.  Ms Corina enjoyed the infants and spoiled them as if they were her own.  Her interactions told me she preferred the little ones. As they started to toddle around, she would encourage the parent to look for centers with more open play space.  This matched my day care plan to a tee. I was an advocate for large motor play as a way to enhance development.  You see this theme of “movement enhances learning” in many of my posts.

When Mel was born, I stayed home until she was 9 or 10 weeks old.  During that time, who was going to care for Mel was a constant thought.  Would she be able to stay with Ms Pam, or need specialized care?  Would centers reject her or accept her?  Initially she had no special care needs, yet she was “special”.

When she was only a few weeks old, I called Ms Pam, Coleman’s in home provider, to ask about Mel.   It only took me a few seconds to figure out Ms Pam was not comfortable keeping Mel. In looking back,  I do not think Ms Pam was being hateful, mean or inconsiderate.  I think she was scared to take on the responsibility of caring for someone who was different.  Her rejection hurt my very core.  Mel had no special needs at this time.  I knew her differences would become more visible but as an infant she appeared typical.  She did have a scar on her head from a shunt and her legs were floppy.  Otherwise, she looked and acted like a typical infant.

With Ms Pam’s refusal to even consider keeping Mel, corporate day cares became my plan.   I thought corporate day care centers had to accept Mel as they were not allowed to discriminate.  Not sure if this is true.  In my mind, discrimination is against the law and I assumed this meant day care centers.  Now, would I really, really want someone to care for Mel if they did not want to. NO.  But the law gave me confidence.

After visiting several corporate day care centers, I knew that was not an option I was comfortable with.  They just did not feel right to me.  Someone along the line, mentioned Ms Corina, Coleman’s day care provider.  I was hesitant due to Ms Pam’s rejection but called anyway.  As it turned out, Ms Corina had a relative with physical difficulties and she did not even hesitate to accept Mel.  Thank God for special people.

Mel stayed with Ms Corina until she was a little over one year old.  Coleman had transitioned to a big kid day care before his 1st birthday and I wanted Mel to have the same experiences.

I was lucky,  the day care next to my work had accepted several special needs kids in the past.  At that  time, Mel needed cathed every 4 hours and thus I was able to drive over as needed to cath her.  I do not recall the name of the day care or even its exact location. What I do remember is that about 2 weeks after Mel switched day cares (My job changed); I got the sweetest note from Jake’s Mom.  The note indicated that Jake was upset about Mel changing day care centers.  His mom had encouraged him to draw a picture to express his feelings.   She was mailing it to Mel.   It was a big construction paper full of toddler markings.  In the middle was pasted a picture of Jake and Mel playing side by side.  To this day, I treasure the memory of receiving that note.  My heart swelled with pride and joy.  A typical child, had befriended Mel, missed Mel, and his mom cared enough to send a note to let me know.  That’s compassion.

Mel’s day care experience varied from that point on…..

I remember, Mel was in a  home center  and the attendant called me.  She wanted me to know that her sister was a physical therapist.  She also mentioned that Mel was a true joy to have in the day care.  She wished the director would put Mel on the floor more often so she could play with her.  It turns out, the director spent most of the day carrying Mel so she would not be hurt by the other kids.  Rrrrr.  Time to change again.

I remember attempting to enroll Mel in one of the large corporate centers at some point before Mel was 3.  I did a pre-visit and loved the facility.  I had several friends whose kids went to that site.  I recall the director call me a few weeks after our first visit. He called to report they had no opening.  Now this would have been OK, had not a friend of mine (who visited the center a few days after Mel) got a call saying they had several spots, when could her child start.  I still occasionally get agitated as I pass that center.

When Mel, was three, I had finally placed her in a small daycare center near the public school she would attend.  We were fortunate enough to have coverage for an RN to go to the center to cath Mel.  We originally placed Mel for half a day in the local school system and half a day in the day care center.

Mel was attending both locations when a friend of mine walked me to the car after picking up Mel.  She wanted to know why Mel was in both the public school and day care.  She assured me that Mel was taken care of in the public school program.  She also wanted me to know that several boys in her class we obsessed with Mel’s wheelchair and Mel was not enjoying the extra attention.  She assured me the teachers were working to keep the boys at bay. We talked a little more about Mel’s needs and then I went home to ponder.

The primary questions I needed to answer at this point is why was Mel in the public school program.  She had tested at her educational level and was placed in the school as a 504 student.  She had a wheelchair and thus could get anywhere she needed at any daycare.  The school goal was to make sure she was ready for kindergarten.  You might ask, “What is a 504 plan?”

Posted from: http://specialchildren.about.com/od/504s/f/504faq1.htm.  “The “504” in “504 plan” refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling. “Disability” in this context refers to a “physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This can include physical impairments; illnesses or injuries; communicable diseases; chronic conditions like asthma, allergies and diabetes; and learning problems. A 504 plan spells out the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity perform at the same level as their peers, and might include such things as wheelchair ramps, blood sugar monitoring, an extra set of textbooks, a peanut-free lunch environment, home instruction, or a tape recorder or keyboard for taking notes.”

In thinking about this double placement, I soon realized that Mel was only in the school program because she qualified for it.  it also saved us money.  We had Medicaid, thanks to the state  MDCP program  http://www.dads.state.tx.us/providers/MDCP/.  Medicaid provided a LVN who could cath Mel at daycare.  So cathing was not an issue for placement.

I had always been a big proponent of Mel doing what her typical peers were doing. I knew the importance of Mel being around the kids she would be around in the public school system.  Those kids were at daycare.  Mel was really only in the school because she could be.  Was the local 3 to 5 year old program the best placement for Mel?  No.  I wanted her to have the same experiences as other kids her age. I wanted the kids she would be in Elementary School and Middle School with to know her as Mel.  I felt if these kids knew her from the start, they would accept her differences better at a later age.

Mel remained at that local day care until Kindergarten.  That was the best placement for Mel. She loved that place and still fondly recalls the director

For help in locating day care in Texas you might call “The Child Care Group”  It is a 95-year-old nonprofit organization devoted to  providing child care and child development services through many  programs – one of which is a “resource and referral hotline.” A family  who is seeking quality child care for their children may call Child Care Answers at 214-631-2273.

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