Child Care and Inequality: Rethinking Carework for Children and Youth

By Swadener, Beth Blue; Ortiz, Karen | Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Child Care and Inequality: Rethinking Carework for Children and Youth


Swadener, Beth Blue, Ortiz, Karen, Women's Studies Quarterly


Child Care and Inequality: Rethinking Carework for Children and Youth, edited by F. M. Cancian, D. Kurz, A. London, R. Reviere, and M. Tuominen (New York: Routledge, 2002)

Child Care and Inequality offers sociological framings of an array of critical issues in the fields of child care, health care, and other "carework" for children and youth, primarily in the United States. The editors have been involved in research addressing a wide range of carework, including family care, center-based and community-based care, neighborhood and youth work, and a variety of advocacy approaches in care-related fields. In describing their use of the term carework, the editors convey their struggle to name and frame complex and embedded issues related to the gendered and economically stratified "caring" fields. An example of this is found in the first chapter, by Emily Abel, which provides a history of women in the U.S. caring for children who are sick and disabled - often other people's children. Most chapters are based on papers given at the first Carework Network conference in 2000.

The chapters in this volume underscore sociologists' analytic focus on inequalities, perspectives that have been developing for some time in the early childhood care and education literature-particularly in the reconceptualizing early childhood "movement" of the past decade. Previous sociological work in the United States addressing child care and early education has included the work of Wrigley (1991). Among the obvious ironies of carework are issues of low status and pay in these gender-ghettoized professions, in which careworkers typically do not earn a living wage or have benefits. These conditions perpeptuate a field of allied professions that form a "permanent underclass" in Western patriarchal societies, particularly those in post-welfare or post-socialist states (Fraser 1997; Mink 1998; Schram 2000).

The process of untangling the web of early care and education is difficult and complex. Many in the caring fields and beyond still tread softly when speaking of motherhood; but until we deconstruct discourses such as those of early experiences (e.g., of mother, child, and "the poor") and begin to frame these topics in ways that reflect multiple power relationships within historical, social, and political contexts, we will not succeed in elevating the profession of caring. Several contributors also appear at times to struggle with how explicitly to name and deconstruct power, patriarchy, and oppression. While many contributors confront these issues with data, stories, and narrative analysis, others use primarily historical analysis and sociological theory.

As child advocates, we found this book to be refreshing, in part because it was not framed from dominant child development and early education perspectives. We also found the historical analysis in some chapters compelling, and noted ways in which such work complements the growing body of early childhood historical literature, as well as emerging literature on "governing children and families" (e.g., Bloch and Popkewitz 2003; Hultqvist and Dahlberg 2001; Rose 1989).

When many white, middle-class researchers talk as advocates, there is a tendency to frame issues in middle-class-dominant culture assumptions, and this has contributed to a child-saving mentality that is usually rooted in a deficit model of families in poverty or families of color. Several chapters in Child Care and Inequality reinforce this point, including discussions of foster care "reform" and policies designed on the basis of middle-class assumptions (e.g., Barbara Bennett Woodhouse's chapter on the privatization of foster care) and definitions of "good" child care (e.g., Francesca Cancian's chapter on hegemonic and democratic standards).

While we were completing this review, the U.S. Congress was in the midst of welfare reform reauthorization, proposing even more punitive requirements. We found ourselves wishing that policy makers or their aides had read the chapters concerning impacts of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996-particularly the chapter by Andrew London, Ellen Scott, and Vicki Hunter, "Children and Chronic Health Conditions: Welfare Reform and Health-Related Carework," which draws from longitudinal ethnographic case studies of single mothers in the welfare system who have significant dependent-care issues. …

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