Support for mothers by early childhood centres : a qualitative study : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Mothers have been involved with early childhood centres since their inception. Apart from obvious benefits for their children this liaison has also been important for mothers through gains in parenting knowledge, increased confidence and personal wellbeing. The present study argues that this is pertinent to appropriate and focused support being crucial for mothers at the life stage of adjustment to early parenting when disruption of networks has occurred. As well, it reflects the responsibility of institutions such as early childhood centres to fulfil these needs in a society where traditional support has fragmented. The study was designed to explore ways in which support mechanisms operated in four different early childhood services, through the medium of interviews. The unique findings in the study culminated in six propositions that showed support to be a product of mothers' own activity in building relationships and contributing to their centre community. At the same time irrespective of service type all centres operated upon the basis of both formal and informal systems of support. Consequently, whilst mothers' activities were most favoured by socially co-operative environments, they were opportunists in both systems. However, of major concern was that the informal systems were the most effective, as the statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices (Ministry of Education, 1996) exhorts staff to consider parent interactions as partnerships and The Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Education (Ministry of Education, 2002) has a vision of socially co-operative practices. Teachers rather than being unwilling to establish more collaborative styles of leadership were hampered by a lack of confidence in working with parents. Difficulties were the consequence of professional attitudes to trained knowledge, unmodified by the benefits of training to facilitate adults. Addressing these issues will not only help teachers to develop more collaborative systems that will facilitate support for mothers, but it will also ensure partnerships that make better use of their services to the mutual benefit of early childhood centre communities.