Mothers returning to paid work after the birth of their first child prefer their baby to be cared for in the home by a known person, yet for many this is not always a choice says a Southern Cross University early childhood expert.
Dr Wendy Boyd from the University’s School of Education tracked 124 first-time mothers beginning in the third trimester of pregnancy until their children were five-years-old.
Most of the mothers (81%) were from Brisbane, with the remainder from the NSW Northern Rivers area.
Dr Boyd said mothers felt that care in the home offered emotional security as the caregiver was known and ensured the child would have adequate attention.
“Parents did not always feel supported when using early childhood education centres and expressed concern over the staffing levels, the group sizes and the constant ill-health of their child.”
To date Dr Boyd has published three papers from this research, with the latest, ‘Parents’ choices of child care in Australia’ published in the NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, reporting on parents’ choices up until the children were 12 months old.
Dr Boyd’s work has implications for infants in childcare; how to support parents’ preferences for care; and parental leave policy.
“The research points to the importance of the quality of education and care for young children, whether it be in the home or in an early childhood education centre, such that parents are assured their child’s health and emotional security is supported,” she said.
“It is well established from neuroscience that a child’s early environment matters and is very important for brain development.
“We also know that parents who are satisfied with their child’s care environment are more likely to have a contented child and more likely to be happy in the workplace.”
The research has also revealed how first-time mothers are uncertain during pregnancy about work and care decisions.
Dr Boyd said it was critical for governments and policy planners to know how parents made decisions about paid work and childcare arrangements, and that parents’ views were considered when making child care policy.
“You cannot look at decisions women make about child care without looking at what else is happening in their lives. Most importantly for women is their engagement in paid work which brings financial support to the household, and often supports the woman’s professional identity.”
Last month Dr Boyd presented her findings in the keynote address, ‘”I feel guilty about leaving my child”: Parents’ decision regarding paid work and care for the child’, at the New Zealand Early Childhood Research Conference in Wellington, organised by ChildForum.
(Source: Southern Cross University, NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal)