Childcare is a term which typically is applied to adults taking responsibility for younger children and looking after them on a daily basis in the private sphere of families and the home. In societies where women and men are employed outside the home, their under school age children may be cared for by kin or their care may be commodified, in which case care is provided through private markets, through quasi markets (childminding), or by the state. In the latter case, in western societies which have strong welfare states, childcare is provided in the public sphere for all children as a right as part of the social rights of citizenship (Leira 2002). In residual welfare states, the state and institutions step in only when children are deemed to be at risk or vulnerable because of abuse, neglect, or loss of both parents.
Developments In The Concept Of Care
No contribution to this topic is complete without a brief exploration of the concept of care. Care is a multifaceted concept which over 20 years has undergone a number of theoretical developments. Until the 1970s care was theoretically subsumed within discussions of the ‘‘natural’’ role of mothers. In the 1970s, feminists argued that care such as childcare constitutes work and is a burden upon those who do an inordinate amount of it (traditionally women). Care has since been elaborated as a concept which has a relational ontology and belongs to the moral realm in which the self can only exist with and through others, and vice versa (Gilligan 1988; Tronto 1993; Sevenhuijsen 1998). In this conceptualization, care is not an automatic obligation associated with a particular role but a situated practice in which all people must interpret questions concerning an ‘‘ethic of care’’ – what is ‘‘the right thing to do,’’ when to care, and how much care in relation to a variety of conditions (Finch & Mason 1993). To give care is thus not a top down moral obligation but negotiated with others and with the self, involving both receivers and givers of care. Care is also a disposition: it involves values of attentiveness, responsibility, competence, and responsiveness. It is a social process with a number of associated phases: caring about; caring for; taking care of; and being responsive to care.
Childcare In The Private Sphere
Children’s care in the private sphere has received a good deal of attention over the past 30 years as women’s position in society has changed and gender equality has increased. Until the 1970s, childrearing, as it was then conceptualized, was predominantly the province of psychology and was assumed to take place exclusively within the family. Childcare was bracketed with mother hood; mothers were assumed to be the only carers of importance for children.
By the end of the 1970s, Bronfenbrenner (1979) had located the ‘‘individual developing child’’ within a hierarchy of social settings. Childcare as a concept began to be further elaborated in feminists’ theoretical challenges to the dominant psychological paradigm of the ‘‘developing individual.’’ The care of children, they argued, in falling disproportionately upon women was a cornerstone of their oppression and precluded women from positions of power in the public sphere. However, children’s care also offered women a sense of power and gave meaning to their lives, albeit this was often turned against women’s interests. Its significance was moreover underpinned by fantasies connected with women’s own childhoods (Chodorow & Contratto 1982), while women’s practices were normalized by the discourses of experts (e.g., Urwin 1985 with respect to young children).
Not surprisingly, fathers have remained very much as background figures in childcare, especially in the care of young children. How far their invisibility results from the concept of childcare is worthy of some consideration, in respect of both researchers’ and informants’ interpretations. For what fathers do with and for their children is likely to be shaped not only by what passes for care in a particular historical and social milieu but also by hegemonic notions of masculinity.
Much of the childcare research has been con ducted on mothers with younger children so that childcare has been narrowly interpreted in relation to fulfilling the needs of small children relating to their material, social, and emotional requirements and their health and well-being (Ribbens 1994). How far the concept stretches to encompass many of the other aspects of parenting as children enter school and remain materially dependent for longer as education is extended is doubtful. Indeed, much of what may be conceptualized as childcare in terms of looking after children’s interests sits unsatisfactorily within the concept, namely, the consider able amount of consumption involved in bringing up children and the support that parents give children – with homework, preparing them for the world of work, and myriad other activities. Parents are pivotal figures mediating the household and the public world. However, this activity is often captured in other concepts such as health care and home–school relations.
Childcare In The Private/Public Sphere
Childcare is increasingly conceptualized at the interface between the public and private spheres. Work–family studies are a growing field of research which examine how mothers (and fathers) negotiate this interface with implications for the childcare they use and the childcare they do themselves. Studies show how childcare choices are shaped, for example, by labor and childcare markets, social class, ethnicity, lone parenthood, and time. In relation to time, Hochschild (1997) shows how mothers are increasingly driven by the ‘‘Taylorization’’ of family life and a consequent lack of time while, in the workplace, they are subject to work intensification and feelings of job insecurity, making it difficult for mothers to take up family friendly policies. Thus in these studies, childcare per se becomes less central as the focus shifts to the work–family strategies of parents, employers, and public policy.
Childcare is commodified in a variety of con texts. For example, in Britain public policy concerning childcare provision has been a back water. Before the increase in the employment of mothers of young children that began in the late 1980s, the term ‘‘childcare’’ suggested rather uninspiring and unpromising connotations (Riley 1983, cited in Brennan 1998: 3). The British concept – spelt ‘‘childcare’’ and also ‘‘child care’’ – has no direct reciprocal meaning in other public policy contexts (Moss 2003).
There are two major policy areas concerning childcare. The first policy meaning (usually signified by two words) concerns the role of the state when it intervenes to protect children or when children are defined as being ‘‘in need.’’ Here childcare is often underpinned by assumptions of maternalism as being the ‘‘best’’ form of care for children and is (increasingly in the UK) carried out by foster carers and (less often in the UK) in institutional settings.
Childcare (one word) refers to the way children are looked after when parents are in paid work. In the US and the UK, the care of young children has historically been a sphere in which public policy has not intervened to any great extent compared with many European countries. In the former countries, it has typically been dominated by ideas of maternalism (Brannen & Moss 2003). Care by family members and child minding (family day care) have been common place and continue to be so. The childcare workforce is typically low qualified and low paid.
Childcare, in both policy senses, takes on a different meaning in other countries, notably Scandinavia and some other European countries, where it refers to the fields of theory and practice concerning children. Here the educational content of childcare is more prominent and the concept of ‘‘pedagogy’’ is used to refer to the whole child (body, mind, and feelings). Pedagogy also involves an ethic of care (see above) that develops between pedagogues and children in their ‘‘care.’’ Thus relationships between carers and children take on forms different from mother–child relationships and are less governed by neoliberal economics (many childcare providers in the UK and the US are businesses) and by concerns of +9risk aversion (keeping children safe as being the central priority for children’s care).
The commodification of childcare also occurs in the context of globalization. In the US, home based childcare workers are increasingly recruited from poor developing countries, leading to a drain on the resources of the source countries (Hochschild 2000). Moreover, the women concerned often employ other women in their countries of origin to care for their children in their absence. This practice high lights the issue of power between those who delegate care to others and those who work in the growing childcare workforce. Thus care relationships may not only contribute to love, responsibility, and attentiveness but also bring about inequalities and exploitation.
In this conceptual frame of childcare as relational, it is important to suggest that children are not just recipients of childcare. This is a crucial issue for future research in the field to explore. For children need to be seen as active partners in their care. Similarly, there is a need to examine childcare services as spaces in which children participate together and with adult carers, creating milieux that are qualitatively different from the home and which offer children many challenges and opportunities.
- Brannen, J. & Moss, P. (Eds.) (2003) Rethinking Children’s Care. Open University Press, Buckingham.
- Brennan, D. (1998) The Politics of Australian Child Care. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979) The Ecology of Human Development. Harvard University Press, Cam- bridge, MA.
- Chodorow, N. & Contratto, N. (1982) The Fantasy of the Perfect Mother. In: Thorne, B. & Yalom, M. (Eds.), Rethinking the Family: Some Feminist Questions. Longman, New York.
- Finch, J. & Mason, J. (1993) Negotiating Family Responsibilities. Routledge, London.
- Gilligan, C. J. (1988) Remapping the Moral Domain: New Images of Self in Relationship. In: Gilligan, C. J., Ward, V., & Taylor, J. M., with Bardige, B. (Eds.), Mapping the Moral Domain: A Contribution of Women’s Thinking to Psychological Theory and Education. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Hochschild, A. (1997) The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work. Metropolitan Books, New York.
- Hochschild, A. (2000) Global Care Chains and Emotional Surplus Value. In: Hutton, W. & Giddens, A. (Eds.), On the Edge: Living with Global Capit alism. Jonathan Cape, New York.
- Leira, A. (2002) Care, Actors, Relationships, Contexts. In: Hobson, B., Lewis, J., & Siim, B. (Eds.), Contested Concepts in Gender and Social Politics. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.
- Moss, P. (2003) Getting Beyond Childcare: Reflections on Recent Policy and Future Possibilities. In: Brannen, J. & Moss, P. (Eds.), Rethinking Children’s Care. Open University Press, Buckingham.
- Ribbens, J. (1994) Mothers and Their Children: A Feminist Sociology of Childrearing. Sage, London.
- Sevenhuijsen, S. (1998) Citizenship and the Ethics of Care: Feminist Considerations on Justice. Routledge, London.
- Tronto, J. (1993) Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for the Ethics of Care. Routledge, London.
- Urwin, C. (1985) Constructing Motherhood: The Persuasion of Normal Development. In: Steed man, C., Urwin, C., & Walkerdine, V. (Eds.), Language, Gender and Childhood. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.