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New Report Reveals Community Partnerships are Key in Advancing Equity and Inclusion for Children Under Five Experiencing Disabilities

DeptEducation

Salem, OR –  Prioritizing partnerships to focus on equity and inclusion for children under five is critical to helping our earliest learners experiencing disabilities. 

That’s the key finding revealed in the Oregon Early Childhood Inclusion Indicators Initiative Annual Report released today by Oregon Department of Education (ODE), Early Learning Division (ELD), and early learning system leaders and advocates around the state.  

The report, released during National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, outlines the vision, mission, and progress towards creating equal opportunity to access high-quality early care and education for children experiencing disabilities. It also highlights the need for continued investments to ensure families, providers, general and special education staff have the support they need to provide stable and continuous care for young children in community and early care and education environments.

“Children experiencing disability exist in every early learning and care environment. Let’s ensure they feel welcome and that their caregivers have the support and education they need to feel capable and confident,” said Colt Gill, Director of ODE. “Belonging and inclusion are not special rights. Every child and family deserves an early learning system that can see them as they are, in all of their humanity including their race, language, culture, and disability.”

“As we continue to expand our early learning system, it’s critical that children experiencing disabilities are included in our high-quality early care and education settings,” said Alyssa Chatterjee, Oregon Early Learning System Director. “I am excited to continue partnering with ODE, communities on the ground, and funding initiatives such as the Oregon State University Early Learning System Initiative to ensure the best opportunities for all our children across the state.”

The report summarizes inclusion and equity success stories from around the state. The examples and lessons learned within these communities are a model for other schools and districts.

Highlights from the state and community collaboration include:

  • Shared and aligned guidance from state agencies including the Early Learning Division, Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education have provided continuity for many communities throughout Oregon during COVID-19.
  • More than 150 hours of shared professional development based on the community, local program, and early care and education indicators of high-quality early childhood inclusion. 
  • Discussions with Grand Ronde community leaders about their perspectives on disability and indigenous ways of knowing, their passion and commitment to keeping children within community settings and frustration with sometimes siloed service delivery models for supporting children and families.

“Every child should learn and thrive together with their peers, friends, and neighbors,” said Autumn Belloni, Director of Early Intervention Early Childhood Special Education for  Linn-Benton-Lincoln Education Service District, one of the key report contributors. 

“Our journey is a building process, we are creating environments so any child can come in, be welcome, and thrive,” said Jill Luther, the Inclusion Program Coach for the Lincoln County Community Inclusion Team. Luther is quoted in the report. 

Background On Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education In Oregon

Oregon early intervention and early childhood special education programs serve 11% of the total population of infants, toddlers, and preschool children from birth to age five. These services can take place in homes with families or other caregivers, center-based and home-based child care, public and private preschools, often with children who do not experience disability. We know this creates a richer experience for children with and without disability, supporting all students to learn and grow, building community and friendships, and increasing empathy and awareness of differences- skills that are an essential part of the human experience. As a state that has identified 25 out of 36 counties in Oregon as a child care desert for preschoolers, the early learning system must continue to ensure there are sufficient opportunities for young children with disabilities to access, participate, and receive special education services and support within early care and education environments. The limited availability of early care and education settings creates challenges for families and providers who are doing the best they can to support development and learning in a child care or preschool environment where children may spend most of their time outside of the home, often leading to the child experiencing disability being asked to leave.

ODE and ELD heard loud and clear from recent engagement with families and providers across the state that comprehensive, coordinated, aligned, and innovative solutions are needed to address inequities. This is why families, advocacy groups, State Agency leadership and staff from the Early Learning Division, Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Department of Human Services, Oregon Health Authority, Regional Early Learning Sector Leaders, School Districts and Education Service Districts, Higher Education, state and regional training and technical assistance providers have partnered throughout this process and contributed to this report through their words, actions, and feedback. 

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