Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Parent Perspectives on Childcare Quality among a Culturally Diverse Sample

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Parent Perspectives on Childcare Quality among a Culturally Diverse Sample

Article excerpt

Introduction

A substantial body of research has demonstrated the critical influence of childcare quality on a range of developmental outcomes (see Ochiltree, 1994, and Vandell, 2004, for a review). Researchers typically assess childcare quality from a child development perspective, adopting indicators of health and safety and developmentally appropriate care in their measures (Farquhar, 1993). While researcher perspectives on childcare quality tend to dominate the literature, this focus is somewhat limited, as quality is a subjective construct (Ceglowski & Bacigalupa, 2002). Other stakeholders, such as staff and parents, may conceptualise quality differently, depending on their beliefs about child development and the objectives of child care.

Historically, childcare quality has been defined by standards for accreditation, state licensing and researchers' assessment of the developmental effects of child care. Therefore, definitions tend to interpret quality as what is 'developmentally appropriate'. However, who defines quality and thus how it is defined (e.g. Moss & Pence, t994) is currently under debate. Indeed, much of the relevant literature suggests that the definition of quality is uncertain (Farquhar, 1993; Wangmann, 1995). Childcare quality typically relates to subjective values and beliefs about children and their development (Farquhar, 1993; Friedman, Randolph, & Kochanoff, 2001; Moss, 1994; Pence & Moss, 1994), and, as such, is dependent on the stakeholder being considered (Moss, 1994). Measures of quality currently adopted by researchers reflect a developmental psychology perspective. Measures used in accreditation processes and research typically include structural characteristics such as carer-to-child ratios and carer education, because they are easy to assess (Farquhar, 1993). However, such definitions may not address aspects of child care that are viewed to be important by other significant stakeholders.

An appreciation of different perspectives will extend the definition of childcare quality (Farquhar, 1990b), which is important for the formulation of childcare policies and services that satisfy a range of stakeholder interests (Powell, 1997). The practice implications of adopting a broader perspective on quality are highlighted by Ceglowski and Bacigalupa (2002), who suggest 'if parents who have recently immigrated from Somalia define quality child care in terms of providers that speak Somali and observe Muslim eating customs, then programs could be developed to fit the families' definitions of quality while also conforming to traditional definitions of quality' (p. 91).

The Child Care in Cultural Context (CCICC) study (Wise & Sanson, 2000) provides an opportunity to explore parent perspectives. The CCICC study involved parents from Anglo, Somali and Vietnamese cultural backgrounds whose children were using centre-based care or family day care in metropolitan Melbourne. The current paper explores perceptions of childcare quality among these three cultural groups.

Parents define quality in relation to the needs of their child and family (Emlen, Koren & Schultze, 1999),and focus on the childcare service overall (including features such as cost) in addition to the setting in which the child spends their time (Powell, 1997). It is therefore likely that parent perceptions of quality may differ from researcher perspectives (Lamer & Phillips, 1994), and the available empirical evidence suggests that this is the case (e.g. Farquhar, 1993). Broadly, Ceglowski and Bacigalupa (2002) suggest that the most important aspects of child care for parents are health and safety, personal characteristics of the staff, parent-caret communication and flexibility of provision.

Although most parents rate all aspects of child care as important to some degree (e.g. Cryer & Burchinal, 1997; Cryer, Tietze & Wessels, 2002; Farquhar, 1993), when parents are asked to rate features of child care in order of importance they typically rank the emotional warmth of care as the most important (Browne Miller, 1990; Cryer & Burchinal, 1997; Farquhar, 1993). …

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