Supporting young children and families can be challenging during uncertain times, and even more so for children with disabilities or suspected delays. It can be hard when their routines change and they no longer receive services during a daily school schedule. While distance learning or teletherapy opportunities may provide some consistency and continuity, experiences vary depending on internet access and location. Participation may also vary due to work and family obligations. As programs plan to transition back to more typical operations, explore ways to prepare and welcome children and families.
As a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, programs will need to follow the most up-to-date health and safety guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health departments. Staff should review CDC and local government websites frequently for any updates.
Staff Wellness Considerations
Maintaining health, safety, and overall well-being is important for Head Start staff and for the children and families in programs. Wellness is particularly important for adults who care for children with underlying medical issues. These children may be more likely to develop additional complications from novel viruses.
- Continue to follow all health and safety guidelines.
- Stay virtually connected with colleagues, friends, and family.
- Practice mindfulness and deep breathing.
- Maintain a consistent schedule but be flexible in times of change.
- Spend time outdoors and plan activities that will break up the monotony of daily routines. Ensure stable groupings do not mix outside.
Programs may transition back to full operation over time. Individual decisions about the return of children with disabilities and delays should be made in consultation with families and service providers, based on child needs.
- COVID-19 and the Head Start Community
- Office of Child Care COVID-19 Resources
- Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center: COVID-19
- Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak [PDF, 168KB]
- Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K–12 Schools and Child Care Programs
Remote Service Delivery and Distance Learning
Ongoing communication is critical to keeping parents and families informed about program-related information during stay-at-home mandates. It can serve as a virtual support to help ease the stress of feeling isolated and alone. Parents and families who have a child with a disability may have additional concerns and questions about their child's Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs), related services (e.g., speech therapy), and the transition back to the program.
- Connect with service providers to support continuity of early intervention, special education, and related services for children with disabilities and their families. Include planning for scheduled transitions, as appropriate.
- Schedule and maintain regular check-ins with families. Encourage families to share their concerns, provide updates on teletherapy or telehealth sessions as they are comfortable, and share any changes in their child's development.
- Encourage families to support their child's learning during daily home activities. Start with one or two small goals that are easy to embed into everyday routines, such as mealtime, outdoors, and reading. This approach will ease the burden on families who may feel the need to plan and implement lessons at home. Be sure to ask families what they want to address most and where they believe they need the most support.
- Keep communication simple and flexible. While families feel supported when connecting with program staff, it is important to avoid over-burdening them with additional responsibilities, calls, texts, and mailings.
Considerations for Summer Programming
As funding is available and community guidelines are met, some programs will be able to return to more regular operations. Bringing children and families back together after an unexpected, long break will have many benefits. It will allow time for families to connect with each other, provide routines and structure for children, and prepare children and families who are transitioning to kindergarten. This will also provide a time to update health and medical records and other important information families will need for kindergarten registration.
- Determine the child's priority needs and refer to their IFSP or IEP goals. Talk with parents about their child's developmental growth, as well as any regressions they have noticed during this period.
- Consider addressing two or three specific goals. This encourages the child's independence and gets them ready for the next step. You might refamiliarize the child with a communication book, assistive technology, picture schedule, or self-help and adaptive skills.
- Decide whether modifications or adaptations are needed. This increases a child's participation in daily schedule activities. Consider activities such as large-group learning, story time, and small transitions from one activity to another, as well as those that involve self-regulation skills.
- Support children's social and emotional development. This may sound simple, but in the wake of a crisis, their responses to stress and change will vary based upon their disability, temperament, resiliency, and prior experiences with stress and transitions.
Transition to Kindergarten
Programs need a collaborative, planned approach to help children successfully transition to kindergarten. This process may look different given the current crisis. Commit to collaborating with the necessary partners to ensure children and families have a positive experience as they approach a new school year.
- Determine who the local education agency points of contact are and additional IEP team members for collaboration.
- Consider offering virtual supports to families as they prepare for the transition to kindergarten. Send registration packets in the mail or electronically. Walk parents through the receiving school webpage to help familiarize them with staff and school leaders. Encourage families to talk to their children about the upcoming school year. Share books with families, if possible. Keep in mind that social stories are helpful when talking about upcoming changes with children who have disabilities or suspected delays.
- Continue to talk with families about the progress their children made on IEP goals during closure and summer programming. Remember, positive relationships are key to successful transitions.
Meet Your Own Needs
After a period of social distancing, you might have lingering concerns about physical closeness. Follow CDC and local health guidelines. Check the websites frequently since they are updated regularly to stay current. Managers, teachers, and family child care providers will want to stay in contact to ensure everyone understands and follows the most up-to-date health and safety guidelines. It's important to remember that young children need physical touch—holding, comforting, picking up, diapering, feeding—to feel supported and safe. Consider taking measures in addition to standard health and safety practices. For example, you might wear long-sleeved shirts or smocks that you can change throughout the day. Wash yours and children's hands frequently and talk with parents about health and safety practices at home.
For home visitors, be sure to adhere to your program's health and safety procedures while on home visits. Talk with families ahead of time and be responsive to requests they may have, such as removing shoes, wearing a face mask, or meeting outside. Partner with families to prepare children for these changes and calm any fears they may have about the face mask. Explain what it is and how it is keeping their home visitor, themselves, and their family safe from germs. Home visitors should also talk with parents ahead of home visits to consider ways to support language and communication as well as social emotional development. Most importantly, remember to take care of your emotional and physical health and encourage all staff to do the same.
- COVID-19 and the Head Start Community
- Managing Infectious Disease
- Health Tips for Home Visitors to Prevent the Spread of Illnesses
- Caring for Children in Group Settings During COVID-19
- Taking Care of Ourselves: Stress and Relaxation
Last Updated: June 11, 2020