Child care for your kid who has a disability

Q: Are all types of child-care centers required to accept children with disabilities? 

A: Yes. The Minnesota Human Rights Act requires that all public accommodations, such as child-care centers, provide access to their services to individuals with disabilities. 

Are child-care centers required to accept all children with disabilities?

No. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), family child-care providers may not discriminate against children with disabilities. 

But child-care providers can refuse to accept a child with a disability if the child poses a direct threat to others, or if providing an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the provider or fundamentally alter the nature of the program. 

Providers must make a good-faith effort to consider each child on an individual basis. It’s important that providers and parents sit down together to discuss the child’s specific needs. 

If there are costs involved in making structural or other accommodations, providers must analyze whether they would pose an undue burden (significant difficulty or expense). 

This is judged in relation to the overall financial resources of a business. In general, a hardship for a family child-care provider is different than that of a facility that has more financial resources. 

Family child-care providers are required to make modifications to policies, activities and procedures that wouldn’t cause them financial hardship.

Providers may be eligible for tax credits or deductions to help them make accommodations. Outside funding from other resources may also be available to providers.

Only the portion of a home or business that’s used for child-care is covered under the ADA. 

Can child-care providers charge more tuition for children with disabilities?

No. Child-care providers can’t charge a family of a child with disabilities for the total costs of having to comply with the ADA. Costs must be spread out to all the families enrolled, or taken as a tax credit or deduction. 

However, families may be charged for measures that exceed compliance with the ADA.

What kinds of accommodations would a child-care center be required to make under the ADA?

Most people think of architectural modifications, but there are many less expensive accommodations that also meet the needs of children with disabilities.

These may include adapting snack preparation and schedules to meet the dietary requirements of a child with diabetes, or providing games, puzzles and toys that reflect a wide range of abilities and development, or using more visual information during activities that include children with hearing impairments.

Can a child-care provider refuse to accept children with disabilities who aren’t toilet trained?

In the past, children with disabilities were sometimes excluded from child-care centers because of requirements that they be toilet trained by a specific age.

The ADA however, requires that children not be screened out because of their disability. And because many children with disabilities will never have bowel or bladder control, they can’t be excluded. 

Child-care providers may need to modify policies to accommodate children with disabilities who need toileting assistance.

What are my options if a child-care center refuses to admit my child because they say they can’t afford to make the necessary accommodations?

If you’re not satisfied that your child was given fair consideration, or believe that it wouldn’t be an undue burden for the child-care provider to care for your child, you may file a complaint with the Department of Justice. 

The DOJ can investigate and, if warranted, impose fines. 

Families can also file private lawsuits. Though families typically can’t receive financial settlements, even if successful in such lawsuits, they can recover attorney’s fees — and the child-care center may be ordered to make the necessary accommodations.


Michele St. Martin is the director of communications with The PACER Center, a Minnesota nonprofit organization that serves families of children with disabilities and those who have been bullied. Learn more at pacer.org.