Tuesday, 25 March 2014

What does the evidence say about childcare in Scotland?

The budget brings promises from the UK Govt for childcare subsidies to help couples with joint incomes who are "working hard, who are feeling the squeeze" and to "assist women back into the workforce". Similarly, the SNP have pledged to increase state-paid childcare for all three and four- year olds, again to "help people, especially women, to move into the workforce", if it was elected within an independent Scotland.

Those with an interest in research on families and relationships may question whether these announcements skim over some of the tough issues facing families, particularly those families struggling to get into work. The recent launch of the Scotland's Outlook campaign to raise awareness of the extent of poverty across Scotland, followed by the Scottish Government's publication of a new poverty strategy does help to widen the lens to look at the many contributing factors affecting many parents ability to enter the paid workforce.

CRFR reflects on what the evidence says about childcare and working families:
  • Most families in Scotland use childcare in the early years[1]. This tends to be a mixture of informal (typically grandparent) and formal providers for their childcare arrangements[2]. The support provided by grandparents should not be underestimated, with many grandparents involved in childcare or babysitting on a regular basis. We know that work is important to women and families. Evidence from GUS shows that most mothers of young children who are in paid work, work part-time[3]. Mothers value work highly, not only for its economic contribution, but also for personal identity, social contact and as an important message for their children[4]. Most working parents with children under 5 believe that their employment is not detrimental to their enjoyment of family life nor to their ability to raise their child(ren).[5][6] 
  • The focus on childcare costs is not misplaced - accessing available, affordable and quality childcare remains a key concern for parents combining caring and working[7][8]. But all is not equal. Factors associated with poverty can add up to make it tougher for families. Lone parent families and re-partnered families are more likely to have no parent in employment than couple families[9]. Lone mothers[10], families living on low incomes[11] and families affected by disability[12] are particularly affected by lack of affordable and suitable childcare.
    • Work, does not in itself, protect families from poverty, particularly when there is only one worker in the household. Families in deprived areas often require quite complex childcare arrangements to make work a possibility[13].
    • Parents from low-income areas tend to have low levels of social support and are least likely to access formal services[14].
    • People living in rural areas and areas of higher deprivation are less likely to be able to access childcare services than those in urban areas[15]
    • Living in child friendly communities and having a reasonable level of resources, such as access to outdoor play, are also very important to outcomes for children[16].
  • Flexibility in childcare provision needs also to be matched by flexibility in workplace practices and employment opportunity: 
    • Parents working full-time and those in lower supervisory or technical occupations were more likely to say that their employment had a negative impact on family life[17].
    • Parents face competing demands on their time relating to their responsibilities as parents and employees. This is experienced through the difficulties of balancing work and family life and results in a sense of harriedness, of feeling constantly busy, tired and stressed.[18]
    • Lone mothers of children of all ages are more likely to experience employment barriers. Low qualifications, lack of confidence, family health issues, lack of training and transport are other barriers they face[19].
    • Parents of disabled children face particular barriers around employment, including inflexible employers, and especially a lack of affordable and appropriate childcare[20], which are not addressed in the consultation document.
  • The debate on childcare should also consider the behavioural and cognitive benefits for children. Attending nursery or pre-school is important for our young children. Evidence from GUS shows that non-parental childcare in the early years is beneficial to a child’s cognitive development, in small effect[21]. However, universal policies which seek to improve children’s cognitive ability and school readiness in the pre-school period will not benefit all children equally.
    • The level of parents’ education qualification is a driver in a child’s cognitive ability at ages 3 and 5. Any strategies aimed at improving school readiness via a pre-school setting need to include, for disadvantaged children, strategies which seek to influence the child’s home environment and parenting experiences at the same time[22].
    • Similarly, lone parents, younger mothers, parents with lower educational qualifications and parents from more deprived socio-economic communities had lower levels of participation in their children’s school activities – both in terms of homework once they had started school and in the number of activities they attended at the school. This has been shown to be associated with lower educational achievement for children[23]
  • Lastly, there is very little known about children’s views and experiences of their parent’s work. Qualitative research carried out in Scotland found that there are clear challenges in negotiating how work and family life balance out[18].
    • Work is typically justified by the financial gains, rather than any of the social or personal benefits for parents, when helping children to understand why work is part of everyday life.
    • ‘Home’ is an important space for children, and was described as a more natural space where they have greater freedom to be themselves. This was contrasted with the more collective and organised nature of after-school clubs.
    • This brings challenges in keeping clear boundaries between home and work, and importantly how available they are to their children when at home – particularly for parents who also work from home.
    • Parents expressed feelings of guilt and anxiety about not being able to give 100% to either work or family, and are constantly trying to meet the demands of both sides.
    • Children are aware of the impact of work on their parents’ emotional and physical state, and do support their parents by complying with routines, helping with chores, looking after themselves and young siblings.
    • However, families were creative in realising some of their aspirations, with holidays and weekend highlighted as times when children’s wishes could be better met, opportunities to reap some of the financial rewards of employment and overall family well-being achieved.
Are you involved in research that can contribute to this debate? We are interested to hear from others invovled in research on families and relationships. Please leave a comment below, tweet us at @CRFRtweets or email us at kirsten.thomlinson@ed.ac.uk.
 
 
[1] Bradshaw P. and Wasoff F. (2009) Growing Up in Scotland: Multiple Childcare Provision and Its Effect on Child Outcomes. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
[2] Jamieson, L., Warner, P. and Bradshaw, P. (2012) The involvement of grandparents in children’s lives. Growing Up in Scotland Topic Research Findings no.1/2012. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
[3] Bradshaw P, Cunningham-Burley S, Dobbie F, McGregor A, Marryat L, Ormston, R. and Wasoff F. (2008) Growing Up in Scotland: Sweep 2 Overview Report, Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.
[4] Backet-Milburn K, Cunningham-Burley S, and Kemmer D (2001) Caing and providing: Lone and partnered working mothers in Scotland. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
[5] Bradshaw P, Cunningham-Burley S, Dobbie F, McGregor A, Marryat L, Ormston, R. and Wasoff F. (2008) Growing Up in Scotland: Sweep 2 Overview Report, Edinburgh: The Scottish Government
[6] Backett-Milburn, K., Harden, J., Maclean, A., Cunningham-Burley, S. and Jamieson, L (2011) Work and family live: the changing experiences of ‘young families’. Timescapes final report, project 5. 
[7] Bradshaw P, Cunningham-Burley S, Dobbie F, McGregor A, Marryat L, Ormston, R. and Wasoff F. (2008) Growing Up in Scotland: Sweep 2 Overview Report, Edinburgh: The Scottish Government
[8] McKie, L., Gregory, S. and Bowlby, S. (2004) Caringscapes: the experiences of caring and working. CRFR research briefing No.13. Edinburgh: Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.
[9] Growing Up in Scotland (2009) Non-resident parent summary report. Growing Up in Scotland Topic Research Findings no. 1/2009. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
[10] Backet-Milburn K, Cunningham-Burley S, and Kemmer D (2001) Caring and providing: Lone and partnered working mothers in Scotland. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
[11] McKendrick J, Cunningham-Burley S and Backett-Milburn K (2003) Life in low income families in Scotland: Research report. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive 
[12] About Families (2012) Parenting on a low income. Edinburgh: Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.
[13] Barnes, M., Chanfreau, J. and Tomaszewski, W. (2010) The circumstances of persistently poor children summary report. Growing Up in Scotland topic research findings no.1/2010. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 
[14] About Families (2012) Parenting on a low income. Edinburgh: Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. 
[15] Growing Up in Scotland (2009) Parenting and the neighbourhood context summary report, Growing Up in Scotland Topic Research Findings no. 3/2009. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
[16] Growing Up in Scotland (2009) Parenting and the neighbourhood context summary report, Growing Up in Scotland Topic Research Findings no. 3/2009. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
[17] Bradshaw P, Cunningham-Burley S, Dobbie F, McGregor A, Marryat L, Ormston, R. and Wasoff F. (2008) Growing Up in Scotland: Sweep 2 Overview Report, Edinburgh: The Scottish Government 
[18] Harden, J., Backett-Milburn, K., MacLean, A., Cunningham-Burley, S. and Jamieson, L. (2013) Home and away: constructing family and childhood in the context of working parenthood. Children’s Geographies, 11(3):298-310. 
[19] About Families (2012) Parenting on a low income. Edinburgh: Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.
[20] About Families (2012) Parenting on a low income. Edinburgh: Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.
[21] Growing Up In Scotland (2009) Multiple Childcare Provision and its Effect on Child Outcomes Summary Report. Growing Up in Scotland Topic Research Findings no.4/2009. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 
[22] Bradshaw, P. (2011) Changes in child cognitive ability in the pre-school years, Growing Up in Scotland Topic Research Findings no.2/2011. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
[23] Bradshaw, P., Hall, J., Hill, T., Mabelis, J. and Philo, D. (2012) Early experiences of primary school – parental involvement in school activities. Growing Up in Scotland Topic Research Findings no.3/2012. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 
 
 

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