The Americans with Disabilities Act and Family Child Care


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

All family child care providers, including those who are exempt from their state regulations must comply with the ADA.

A disability is a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities: hearing seeing, learning, speaking, and walking.

Such disabilities include, but are not limited to cancer, cerebral palsy, deafness, diabetes, emotional or mental illness, epilepsy, HIV and AIDS, learning disabilities, and mental retardation.

Does this mean that you must care for every child who has a disability and wants to enroll in your program?


It means you must make “reasonable accommodations” to include children with disabilities. What is reasonable will depend on the individual assessment of the child’s needs and your ability to accommodate those needs.

You cannot deny care to a child with a disability for these reasons:

* Child has a severe disability

* You don’t feel you have the skills to deliver care

* Your policies say you don’t care for children with disabilities

* You don’t feel comfortable dealing with certain disabilities, such as AIDS

You must care for children with disabilities unless:

*Offering your services to the child would impose an “undue burden”  (meaning “significant difficulty or expense”)

* The child’s condition poses a “direct threat” to herself or others

Let’s look at two situations:

Child in Wheelchair

A child shows up to your program in a wheelchair and you have 6 front steps. You would have to care for this child if you could accommodate her by: lifting her into your home, using a side entrance, or spending $100 on a temporary wooden ramp.

You would not have to care for this child if none of the above solutions would work and the only solution was to build a ramp costing $5,000 (“significant expense”).

Child with a Severe Learning Disability

A parent wants to enroll her child in your program and the child has a severe learning disability. Your job is to find out what it would take to accommodate this child and properly care for the other children in your program. Ask the parent, the child’s doctor/nurse for help in understanding what this child needs.

If you are able to provide appropriate care after obtaining a little training then you must provide the care. If it’s not possible for one person to provide care for everyone, then you need to explore what it would take to bring in another adult to help. If you can find a volunteer, you must provide the care. If the only solution is paying a helper and the helper would cost you $400 a week, this would be considered a “significant expense.”

You could then tell the parent that you can’t afford to provide care. If the parent volunteers to pay the extra $400 a week, you would have to care for the child. You cannot ask a parent of a child with a disability to pay extra.

Family child care providers have cared for children with disabilities without much difficulty in the vast majority of situations. Having experience in care for children with special needs is a plus as you promote your program to prospective parents.

For additional help in understanding the ADA, talk with your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency or visit

What are your questions about the ADA?

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Legal & InsuranceFor more information about the ADA, see my book Family Child Care Legal and Insurance Guide.

Categories: Legal, Legal & Insurance

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4 replies

  1. I’m glad to see this article, because it vindicates me in a recent situation. I’m just starting my daycare, and I was declined for insurance by one company because I would not indicate on the application that I would not care for a child with a disability. My agent didn’t give me the name of the company, and I bought a policy from a different company, but I think that the insurance industry needs to make sure their underwriting rules are in line with federal law!

  2. Unfortunately, insurance companies are not required to follow the ADA. In other words, they can discriminate against child care providers who do care for children with disabilities!

  3. What are my requirements if I am caring for a child whose father is a quadrapelegic? The entrance to my in-home daycare is not handicapped accessible.

  4. You must provide reasonable accommodations. So, you would follow the same guidelines as I describe in my article about a child in a wheelchair. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars building a ramp.

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