Over the past few years, the pandemic has illuminated the fragility of the childcare industry and the massive challenges parents have finding childcare, a reality that has only become worse with major staffing shortages and pandemic-related center closures. But for parents of children with disabilities, childcare shortages have always been a reality. In many cases, parents like Linskens can’t find programs that offer the support their children need — many parents report being turned away from child care programs once program officials learn that their child has a disability.

Since fears about the pandemic have dissipated, these childcare challenges have only worsened for parents of children with disabilities , experts say, as child care centers reach the end of pandemic-related relief funds and struggle to find staff.

“The amount of care available has diminished,” said Nina Perez, early childhood national campaign director at MomsRising, an advocacy group focused on issues relating to moms, women and families. “If you’re operating on the margins, it’s incredibly difficult to be inclusive without an infusion of public funds or without charging [more],” she said. “It’s less likely you’ll have services for those kiddos.”

Families of kids with disabilities who do find slots often find their children expelled or “counseled out” of school if they are deemed too disruptive — one out of six autistic children are expelled from preschool of childcare, according to a recent study published by the Exceptional Children research journal.

“Most parents bounce around from preschool to preschool hoping that they don’t get thrown out,” said Lina Acosta Sandaal, a Florida-based psychotherapist who works with parents in need of one-on-one or group parenting support. “What happens when [a child] get thrown out of that preschool is now we can’t practice what we need to practice so they’re ready for kindergarten,” she added. Kids “get labeled and that label stays with them.”

This reality has consequences for parents as well. Caregivers of children with disabilities are less likely to be employed, are more likely to turn down promotions and lose an average of $18,000 per year due to scaling back work hours or leaving jobs because they can’t find child care.

Read the full article about childcare options for kids with disabilities by Jackie Mader at The Hechinger Report.