Towards equal voices : childcare and children in Chinese and Bangladeshi households in Newcastle upon Tyne
Childcare is the site of a number of interrelated and contested social, political and economic issues. The impetus for this piece of research came from a concern with how the agenda for social inclusion, especially with regard to minority ethnic ‗hard-to-reach‘ groups, could be promoted through childcare. As yet, very little research has been undertaken specifically on the childcare needs of minority ethnic groups in Britain, despite the fact that ‗race‘ and ‗social exclusion‘ issues are more pertinent than ever. The research is a comparative study into the childcare practices and needs of Chinese and Bangladeshi communities, undertaken in collaboration with the Newcastle Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership (EYDCP). It is based on in-depth interview data from eight Chinese and seven Bangladeshi households of different origins, compositions and socio-economic backgrounds in Newcastle upon Tyne. Taking a household and social networks approach, the research aims to capture the perceptions and experiences of childcare from the perspectives not only of parents, but also of grandparents, children, and others taken to be part of the household. Household data is contextualised by focus groups with women and interviews with key workers. Practices of childcare were very different within and between the two communities, which differ in terms of their migration history, settlement and employment patterns. In some cases, understandings of the needs of children were structured around work obligations and in other cases vice versa. There are strong ii i links between childcare and education, which includes religious instruction for Muslim children. Bringing up children varied in terms of the combinations of parent, grandparent and older sibling involved, and migration history, neighbourhoods and networks and family ideologies are among a matrix of factors underpinning practice. Research participants, in particular children, demonstrated agency and an ability to thrive within the structural and cultural constraints of their household circumstances, challenging the cultural assumptions often made about the respective communities. The research examines the meanings of ‗household‘, ‗family‘ and ‗social networks‘ for a greater understanding of the contexts for childcare in each of these communities. It also highlights the importance of understanding the impact of migration history and settlement patterns on household and childcare preferences. The environment surrounding these households and the degree to which parents perceive this to be hostile or against their beliefs and values also affect the care of children. An understanding of cultural and religious values was found to be important in this regard. A major theoretical outcome of the research is the greater recognition of the place of social reproduction and the socialisation of children in discourses on social exclusion. This has been identified as being particularly pertinent for most families, for whom the cultivation of the cultural identities of children is a prime consideration. Another key finding is that participation in certain sectors of the labour market can be socially-excluding in itself. A definition of social exclusion as the result of cross-cutting social inequalities such as gender, class, ethnicity and race arises from the data. There are significant policy implications for government initiatives such as Sure Start and Children‘s Centres, and recommendations have been made to Newcastle EYDCP with respect to implementing the duty to ensure that policies on race equality and inclusion are acted upon.