Posts Tagged 'Childcare'

Can childcare markets deliver?

Chilcare markets book cover By Eva Lloyd, co-editor of Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service?

At first glance it may seem far-fetched, if not downright distasteful, to draw parallels between developments in childcare markets and emerging findings in the recent disturbing report from the deputy Children’s Commission’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, with a special focus on children in care (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2012). But both cases highlight risks attached to private-for-profit agencies delivering social welfare services on behalf of public bodies.

Modern states traditionally have varied in the amount of public support provided for early childhood education and care systems and other types of social welfare provision. Compared to commodity markets, childcare markets tend to form part of a mixed economy, in parallel with developments in social welfare markets such as the residential childcare market. In this mixed economy, the state, private-for-profit and private-not-for-profit providers all play a role in its provision, funding and regulation. The conclusion becomes almost inescapable that prioritising business interests, including profit or surplus, may underlie the geographical clustering of private sector care homes which was identified in this report. Almost half of all children in care were living outside the local authority with primary responsibility for their welfare, thus promoting their vulnerability, in particular to sexual exploitation (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2012, p 8).

There is growing evidence that marketisation and privatisation – including corporatisation – risk deepening, consolidating or widening inequalities of access to social welfare services. They may also drive up costs and promote qualitative differences between provider types. That this also applies to childcare markets, a distinctive and rapidly growing phenomenon in the present global economic climate, is shown from a range of disciplinary perspectives in a new edited book from the Policy Press, Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service?

This book documents the economic and policy backdrops of eight current childcare market systems, allowing comparisons between privatisation and marketisation processes of early childhood services within their national policy and political contexts. It examines their consequences for parents, children, providers and the systems themselves. Alongside this it offers material about ‘raw’ and ‘emerging’ childcare markets operating with a minimum of government input, mostly in low income countries or post-transition economies in the process of adopting a market model. Finally, it explores alternative approaches and interrogates the case for government intervention.

Those authors writing from an education or childcare background emphasise the position of children, especially vulnerable children, and consider the detail of the care and education they are likely to receive within a market system. The economists’ contributions, on the other hand, consider the childcare market from the perspective of wider economic analysis and prediction, and they view childcare as a more or less well-functioning sector of the market. But despite these contrasting starting points, evidence presented challenges the expectation that the market will create incentives for providers to offer consumers more choice and competitive pricing, leading to a better balance between service supply and demand. Instead, all chapters in their own individual way demonstrate the case for increased attention to the ethical demands inherent in negotiating the interplay between social, political and economic issues and tensions within childcare markets.

This position is cogently argued by Jennifer Sumsion on the basis of her case study of the rise and fall of ABC Learning, the Australian childcare corporation which briefly became the world’s largest for-profit childcare provider, and virtually monopolized the Australian childcare market before its spectacular collapse in 2008. From her analysis of the current Dutch childcare system, Janneke Plantenga concludes that local providers and loyal parents do not by definition generate efficient markets, but that their atypical nature may generate additional market regulation, aiming at steering and perhaps limiting the choices of providers and parents. Even in New Zealand, according to Linda Mitchell, a state and community partnership model can build early childhood services more responsive to the wider context of children’s lives and supporting a stronger local sense of community than a market approach, while the Norwegian childcare system as described by Jacobsen and Vollset, does indeed operate on a non-profit basis, while still offering parents choice, by using a wide-reaching regulatory approach and judiciously targeted – and generous – public funding.

Rather than primarily ideologically driven conclusions, the book presents a balanced and pragmatic case for reform and outlines constraints needed to ensure that mixed economies of childcare can deliver equitable services.

Eva Lloyd, Reader in Early Childhood at the University of East London, UK, and Co-director of the International Centre for the Study of the Mixed Economy of Childcare (ICMEC), has extensive childhood policy research experience. Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service? is edited by Eva Lloyd and Helen Penn and is available now at 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

Children of the 21st century: the first five years

Last Wednesday (17 February 2010), The Policy Press published arguably the most important book to date on the UK Millennium Cohort Study which resulted in widespread media coverage and discussion of the findings, including the Guardian, Telegraph, Times, BBC News and the Observer. The book takes up the story of 19,000 children recruited into the study at the beginning of the new century and follows their progress from birth to primary school. The origins and objectives of the study, along with the results of its first survey were covered in a companion volume: Children of the Twenty-first Century: from birth to nine months (Dex and Joshi, 2005).

The stage of the life course which this book – Children of the 21st century: the first five years – covers is one of great advances in child development – the most rapid since the nine months before their birth. As they grow from babies into children they have been weaned, learned to walk, talk and play. Height at age five is around double their length at birth. They grow out of nappies. Their bodies strengthen and their faces change. Differences between boys and girls are reinforced by gendered clothing and often gendered toys.

Identity and personality emerge, along with relationships with other family members. They have been prepared for later years by immunizations against childhood infections. They acquire their first set of teeth and learn to brush them. They also learn to sing, draw, paint, to listen to stories, to count and to recognize symbols. Not all to start reading and writing by age 5. By the end of the window observed here they are sufficiently independent of the parental nest to attend school, and learn from other adults and interact with other children. They have acquired knowledge and skills through learning at home, and pre-school provisions, which will also stand them in good stead in later life. It is also thought that negative experiences and hardships at these early ages will prove an impediment to the child’s later development.

To mark the publication, the Centre for Longitudinal Studies issued six press releases on the book’s key findings. These releases reported that:

  • * Parents who read to their child every day at age 3 are likely to see them flourishing in a wide range of subjects during their first year in primary school.
  • * Fewer parents are managing to enrol children in their true ‘first choice’ primary schools than is generally thought.
  • * Screening tests that monitor babies’ motor development could prove crucial in helping to identify children who will need learning support in their pre-school years.
  • * Black children in the UK are far more likely to be overweight than youngsters from other ethnic groups when they enter primary school.
  • * Black Caribbean and black African mothers are more likely than women from other ethnic groups to say that they have been victims of racism.
  • * Sikh and Roman Catholic mothers attend religious services more regularly than women from other major faiths and churches.

Dr Kirstine Hansen
Research Director, Millennium Cohort Study, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education

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