Ideas of early childhood and their interface with policy and practice in early years work in Scotland
Martin, Carolyn Douglas
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Assumptions are made by policy makers, service planners and providers that their aspirations for early childhood are shared by professionals, parents and children. Policy makers consistently use words such as holistic, integration, partnership and collaboration to describe the ways they wish early years practitioners to engage with children and families. In order to explore these assumptions and expectations this thesis utilises data from early years settings themselves (focus groups/interviews with parents and staff and child based activities) to critically examine the connections between participants’ ideas of childhood, Scottish Government policies and staff roles/responsibilities. It specifically utilises the experiences of staff, parents and children in selected early years settings in Scotland to critique the Scottish Government’s key policy document, the Early Years Framework (2008). In this thesis I identify four main themes from the data. These relate to early childhood experience: • in the home and the impact of work on family life • in the community and a child’s ability to participate • living independent lives with peers and the ability to take risks • in the inner life of the child and the impact of commercialism on her self image. I conclude that there was a measure of shared aspiration for young children between participants in my research and the Framework document in relation to the importance of building family and community based experiences. However, there were also wide differences in expectations relating to existing capacities of families and communities to support young children. In particular there was a lack of recognition in the Framework of the considerable pressures experienced by families and communities from wider economic and social forces driven by a neo-liberal marketised economy. This finding enabled the illumination of gaps and mismatches between policy objectives relating to family and community strength and the lived experiences of children, families and communities in Scotland. I identify in the thesis how such mismatches impact significantly on the ways in which services are organised and the ways in which practitioners understand their roles and responsibilities. Current professional responses are based in an assumed power and authority emanating from a restricted sense of professional identity. As such, they may act in a detrimental way on the development of collaborative, strengths based relationships between staff and parents and children. The thesis contributes to knowledge in this field by exposing, for the first time, the policy, practice and experience divides relating to creating strength and resilience in young children and their families in Scotland, and in discussing the implications for theoretical and policy based understandings of the relationships between the four themes identified above and professional responses.