'Inclusion is a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging.'
Early Childhood Forum (2003)
All settings and schools have a duty to promote health under government strategy 'Healthy lives, brighter futures'; children with complex health needs are often excluded from access to mainstream schools and settings.
While there is no agreed definition of complex health needs, this category would normally include babies and children who have needs in one or more developmental area.
They might also:
- have continuing health needs, frequent illnesses, home nursing needs, etc
- be dependent on technological support (such as oxygen or assisted feeding), and
- have an uncertain or short life expectancy.
Examples of the care or health needs of children in this category might include a child with a tracheostomy who requires regular airway suctioning during the day, or a child who requires a gastronomy or tube feed at mealtimes.
To support individual children, each school and early years setting should have in place a policy and protocols on meeting complex health needs.
The process of designing and implementing a policy will help to identify training needs and sources of specialist support and advice. The policy can stand alone or be part of existing special needs or inclusion policy. It should address fears and anxieties and demonstrate commitment to positively promoting inclusive practice for all children.
The policy should give understanding of the responsibilities of staff and clarify for parents and children what they can expect. It may require time to plan and make adjustments for individual children, or to put into place arrangements.
It is important that early years workers feel part of the wider team of professional carers.
Mary Dickins is an early years consultant (All Together Consultancy/London Met. University)