New research shows parents whose children are in child care gain more than freedom to pursue adult-only activity. They reap social, psychological, and financial rewards. Collectively, these rewards are called “social capital.” They add to the benefits of early education for children. This is especially true for low-income mothers. Advocates can use this new evidence to seek universal access to quality early education.
Mario Small at the University of Chicago found that many mothers benefit from relationships with staff and other families. The data came from four sources. The first was a national survey of 3,500 mothers in 20 large U.S. cities. The second source was a survey of 300 child care centers in New York City. The third was 67 in-depth interviews with mothers who enrolled children in child care. The fourth source was 23 case studies and observations in specific centers. They didn’t study what fathers gain from having their children in child care. However, the benefits for mothers are likely to help them too.
Having common problems to solve leads parents to form a support network of friendships. These relationships go beyond interactions at the child care facility. Some parents talk to other parents and staff about feeling guilty. Some aspects of U.S. culture foster parents’ feelings of guilt. Many people think parents who need and want to share the care of children outside are less competent than those who share care only within the family. Most parents know they shouldn’t “drop and run” in the morning, but it happens. Families may have something come up that makes it hard to pick up their children on time. All these situations contribute to feelings of guilt. Parents who use child care develop trusting relationships with other parents. This helps them make back-up arrangements with one another. Centers that have strict drop-off and pick-up times foster interfamily friendships by bringing family members to the facility at around the same time. Field trips involving parent volunteers and special family events at the child care facility encourage a sense of extended family too. Families may share concerns with one another about discipline, child-rearing practices or needed services. Some parents find when they share their concerns, child care staff and other families offer good advice and refer them to helpful resources and services. This benefit is particularly valuable in poor neighborhoods.
Mario Small found that as soon as 6 months after enrolling their child in child care, mothers made valuable social connections related to use of the child care program. These relationships led to more than simple solutions for an occasional problem. The friendships fostered well-being and in some cases, long-term relationships. Mothers who formed friendships at child care were 40% to 60% less likely to be depressed than those who made no friends. To learn more about this work and the findings, go to http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_childcare_boosts_social_capital