Year

2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Education

Department

School of Education

Abstract

Australia’s first national quality framework for early childhood was introduced in January 2012 to provide a consistent approach to high quality early childhood education and care across Australia. Despite the expansion of such services, the percentage of children with disabilities accessing early childhood education and care centres is significantly lower than the percentage of children without disabilities. Transition into early childhood education and care centres can lay the foundation for the success of inclusion in formal school settings. While there have been studies on transition into school, transition into early childhood education and care centres - that is, non-compulsory education in Australia - is an under-researched area. This research study sought to understand, in the New South Wales (NSW) context, the factors impacting on the transition into early childhood education and care centres for children with disabilities.

Underpinned by Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory, this study used a mixed-method design involving questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, to determine the perceptions of key stakeholders in the process of transition into early childhood education and care centres for children with disabilities.

An initial questionnaire was completed by thirteen parents who accessed supported playgroups for children with disabilities. Following the completion of the questionnaire, two focus groups were conducted with ten parents to gain insight into the lived experience of participants in relation to the transition into early childhood education and care centres for children with disabilities. Three significant issues provided the focus for the discussions, namely, factors that contributed to positive transition experiences, negative experiences that occurred during transitions, and the main concerns parents held in relation to enrolling in an early childhood education and care centre.

Questionnaires were also distributed to 125 early childhood education and care centres in the Illawarra region of NSW. Thirty-seven were returned, representing a percentage of almost 30%. Follow-up interviews were conducted with ten educators to gain more in-depth understanding of their viewpoints. Issues explored in the interviews were areas of disability that educators found more challenging, educator attitudes to enrolling children with disabilities, procedures that had been used during transitions, what educators wished they knew more about, and their experience of communication with parents during this time.

Data were manually coded, and thematic analysis was used to determine commonalities and significant issues identified by participants. While perceptions varied on a range of issues, a number of key findings emerged. Parents of children with disabilities identified their initial reluctance to send a child to an early childhood education and care centre, which was compounded when the disability is more significant. Parents also identified that their confidence in the centre depended on the initial response from the educators, and their willingness to enrol the child with disabilities. Parents were reassured by educators who were trained, and had experience with children with disabilities. Having a key educator provided important reassurance to parents, and parents valued being able to stay at the centre, a positive attitude of educators, educators being interested in the child and their abilities, and most significantly, open and honest communication.

Educators felt that the biggest barriers they experienced related to parents not acknowledging or accepting their child had a disability. They agreed that positive educator attitudes were essential, and that experience and qualifications did contribute to a more positive foundation for development of confidence relating to children, especially if they had high support needs. Areas of disability that provided the most challenge to educators were children with high support needs, challenging behaviour, or those without a diagnosis. In support of the parent responses, authentic communication which suited each particular family was identified by educators as being important for the transition, and subsequent inclusion process.

A number of recommendations were made in relation to practice, policy and theory. Data from the study indicate that further research into the area of transition into early childhood education and care centres for children with disabilities is warranted.

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