Rethinking carework in home child care: Providers' perspectives in context
This qualitative, multi-disciplinary study examines how 30 agency-supervised and independent home child care providers in Southern Ontario understand their work of caring for other people's children and considers the meaning carework holds for them in the context of the social discourses concerned with work and caring, mothering, and professionalism in early childhood education. The providers, from diverse cultural backgrounds, were recruited through seven family day care agencies, provider networks, resource centres, a caregiver registry, from newspaper ads, supermarket bulletin boards, and by word of mouth. Providers' descriptions of their carework highlighted the distinct nature of home child care, the ecological and complex nature of their inter-relationships with day care children and parents, other providers, and staff from agencies and community support programs. Providers' accounts demonstrated how their carework was affected by the presence of family members, by their geographic location, and the nature of the physical and social resources available in their neighbourhoods. Providers' accounts of what constitutes "good" and unsatisfactory caregiving involved six inter-related dimensions that together constitute a framework for thinking about the internal and external factors that caregivers require in order to offer quality care. These factors include: (1) intentionality; (2) finding carework meaningful; (3) building enduring relationships, and giving and receiving social support; (4) having personal integrity; taking responsibility for their work and their own learning; (5) finding an appropriate balance between work and family obligations; (6) having control over their own work. While built up inductively from providers' comments, a number of these dimensions have been identified in prior research in home child care as factors that affect quality; in the social psychological literature as relating to self-efficacy, self-esteem, greater creativity and better physical and mental health; and in the social support literature as related to a sense of personal empowerment. These findings suggest the need for a rethinking of current approaches to home child care to recognize providers' sense of personal agency, ethical responsibility, and the complex and distinct nature of carework, and to work towards developing a more agentic service model that validates and builds on the wisdom and strength of providers' experiences.