Inclusive Practices

Quality programs provide nurturing, developmentally appropriate environments where children can grow and learn. All children benefit from participating in programs that emphasize being responsive to individual strengths and needs, a hallmark feature of inclusive practices.

Definition and Benefits

Inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every child and their family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children, with and without disabilities, and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. Access, participation, and support are the defining features of inclusion often used to identify high-quality child care and education programs. (Adapted from: DEC/NAEYC. [2009]. Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood [DEC] and the National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC]. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.)

In an inclusive program, children with and without disabilities can access the same routines, play, and learning experiences. Providers in inclusive programs learn to recognize children as individuals with unique strengths, needs, abilities, and interests. They continually make creative accommodations and modifications to routines, play, and learning activities so that each child benefits from participation.

In addition to provisions addressing access and participation, an infrastructure of systems-level support must be in place within a program to reinforce the providers’ efforts in caring for and teaching children with a wide range of needs.

The Maryland State Department of Education is dedicated to making high-quality child care and education programs accessible to all children. Therefore, Maryland EXCELS directly incorporates quality aspects related to inclusion. 

High-quality programs:

  • Promote open lines of communication and collaboration among all partners and stakeholders involved in children’s lives, including working with early intervention or special education service providers to support positive child and family outcomes;
  • Have written policies on their philosophy or mission and practices regarding the inclusion of children with disabilities, special health care needs, challenging behaviors, or all mentioned;
  • Make specific professional development efforts to increase provider preparedness to care for children with diverse needs;
  • Employ developmentally- and age-appropriate practices that are responsive to children’s individual needs; and
  • Monitor each child’s progress using valid and reliable developmental screening and assessment methods, and share this information with families.

What are the benefits of inclusion?

Children who participate in inclusive care and education programs benefit by:

  • Experiencing a sense of belonging and community;
  • Developing friendships with a diverse range of children;
  • Learning from other children through modeling and interactions;
  • Developing sensitivity and understanding for and of people’s differences; and
  • Having positive self-concepts.

Providers who adopt and implement inclusive policies and practices benefit by:

  • Improving knowledge of child development;
  • Learning about helpful resources and services;
  • Enhancing relationships with families and community partners;
  • Understanding and valuing individual differences; and
  • Strengthening their reputation in the community by demonstrating a belief in equality.

What are accommodations?

Accommodations are changes in how a child receives support in accessing information and participating in routine, play, and/or learning experiences with other children. Accommodations do not substantially change an activity’s content, materials, or performance criteria.

Accommodations can include changes in the following:

  • Presentation format
  • Child response requirements/expectations
  • Time/scheduling
  • Environment
  • Equipment

What are modifications?

Modifications are changes made to what a child is experiencing. Modifications ensure a child has equal opportunities to participate meaningfully and productively with other children in routine, play, and learning experiences or in all three areas. However, the expected outcome of their participation is different.

Modifications include changes in the following:

  • Content/materials
  • Level of difficulty
  • Performance criteria

Professional Development and Technical Assistance

Providers may be concerned if they possess the necessary knowledge and skills to work with children with disabilities and other special needs. Accessing and utilizing appropriate information and training is essential to addressing such concerns. Parents and family members are a primary source of information regarding how to best care for and support their children in care and education settings. Various professional development opportunities and resources are also available to help prepare providers to work with children with diverse needs. Your MSDE Quality Assurance Specialist (QAS) or the Maryland Family Network can assist programs with locating professional development and technical assistance opportunities.

Recognized Accrediting Organizations

Accreditation is a method by which a program demonstrates to an outside organization or agency that the program is meeting the quality standards set by that organization. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) recognizes national accrediting organizations as aligning with the overall mission and high standards for early childhood, public prekindergarten and school-age child care programs. Quality Assurance Specialists offer guidance and support to programs seeking accreditation. Additionally, the Accreditation Support Fund is available to assist programs with the cost of national accreditation fees and reimbursement of expenses related to Maryland Accreditation.

To recognize the importance of meeting and demonstrating standards at this highest level of quality, Maryland EXCELS participating programs must achieve accreditation in order to reach a Quality Rating 5. In addition, accredited programs entering Maryland EXCELS will receive credit for requirements already demonstrated to the accrediting organization.

Recognized Accrediting Organizations

Children with Disabilities and Individual Needs

What is an Inclusive Child Care Program? What are a program’s legal responsibilities?

Inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children, with and without disabilities, and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high-quality child care and education programs are access, participation, and supports. (Adapted from: DEC/NAEYC. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.)

In an inclusive program, children with and without disabilities have access to the same routines, play, and learning experiences. Providers in inclusive programs learn to recognize children as individuals with unique strengths, needs, abilities, and interests. They continually make creative accommodations and modifications to routines, play, and learning activities so that each child benefits from participation.

The Maryland State Department of Education is dedicated to making high-quality child care and education programs accessible to all children. Therefore, aspects of quality related to inclusion are directly incorporated into Maryland EXCELS standards.

A Parent’s Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Child Care provides families with information about how the ADA applies to child care programs.

How do I find a program that will meet my child’s needs?

Regardless of a child’s ability or disability, choosing child care can be challenging for families. Children with disabilities, according to the ADA, cannot be excluded from programs solely on the basis of their disability. It is important that families have the proper information and know the right questions to ask when looking for care for a child with special needs. Maryland Family Network offers LOCATEa free service that helps families find child care based on their child’s specific needs.

Can my child receive special services or therapy while in child care?

It is highly recommended that families involve their child care provider in the planning and/or implementation of their child’s Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) so that their child receives the most comprehensive and complete system of services.

Tiered Reimbursement/EXCELS Payments

Tiered Reimbursement pays quality differential payments to providers who accept Child Care Scholarship and have a Maryland EXCELS published Quality Rating of level 3, 4, or 5.  Tier payments range from 10 percent (10%) to 44 percent (44%), depending upon the age of the child, the type of care, and the Quality Rating of the program.  The chart below shows the percentage of tiered reimbursement payments to programs.  On the Invoice Detail Report, tiered reimbursement payments are shown as EXCELS payments for each child.

EXCELS Payments Maryland EXCELS Quality Rating
Level 3 Level 4 Level 5
Family Child Care

Under 2 years of age

11% 22% 29%

2 years of age and over

10% 21% 28%
Child Care Center

Under 2 years of age

22% 37% 44%

2 years of age and over

10% 19% 26%

Purpose and Use of Tier Payment

The purpose of the Tier Payment is to provide recognition and incentive to the program for participating and achieving a Maryland EXCELS rating at the highest levels. Programs and providers have choices regarding the use of the tier payment. For example, tier payments may be utilized to:

  • Offset the cost of child care for families receiving Child Care Scholarship
  • Provide salary and benefits enhancements for staff
  • Make quality improvements to the program

As part of the continuous quality improvement process, providers and programs are encouraged to reflect and assess the needs of their program, with input from staff and families, when making decisions regarding the use of the tier payment.