"It's like we're raising that child together:" Parents, center-based child care providers, and the work of creating relationships
Speirs, Katherine Elizabeth
Anderson, Elaine A
Roy, Kevin M
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Today, most children experience some form of non-parental child care before entering school. The popularity of child care has led scholars to investigate its impact on children's development. In particular, researchers and theorists agree that children benefit when parents and providers form partnerships that include frequent and constructive communication. However, less is known about how parents and providers establish and maintain partnerships. I used a qualitative approach to examine how parents of young children and center-based child care providers understand the parent and provider roles and establish and maintain relationships. During a year of field work at two privately-owned child care centers, I generated 112 sets of field notes from participant observations and conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 23 parents and 17 child care center staff members. Using both observations and interviews allowed me to witness parent-provider relationship formation firsthand and explore parents' and providers' perspectives. Additionally, generating several different types of data from multiple sources allowed for triangulation and a rigorous research design. I used a modified grounded theory approach to analyze my data. My findings suggest that parents and providers saw five components to the provider role: physical caregiving, emotional care, teaching, fostering development, and family support. The parent role had two main components. Child care providers and parents expected that parents would be involved in the child care center through the donation of goods, money and/or time. In addition to involvement in the center, parents also felt responsible for monitoring and directing the providers' caregiving. I identified five distinct parent-provider relationship types: basic familiarity, working relationships, partnerships, independent relationships, and discordant relationships and present a model that explains how these relationships are established and maintained. Research and theory suggest that children benefit when parents and providers form partnerships. However, I found that establishing and maintaining partnerships requires time, effort, and a specific skill set from parents and providers as well as opportunities for regular communication. Class-based patterns emerged from my data which suggest that middle-class parents may be in a better position to form partnerships with their providers. Therefore, it may be unrealistic to expect all parents and providers to work collaboratively. Rather, the benefits of alternative relationship types should be explored. Implications for future research, early care and education programming and the design of measures to assess the quality of parent-provider relationships are discussed.