Research into practice

Gaynor Wingham looks at research
into child care for rural families with special needs and those from ethnic

A research project by Suffolk Acre
(Action for Communities in Rural England) is part of a countrywide project to
look at how child care is viewed by ethnic minority communities, and families
with children with special needs.

These groups had been identified as
not using child care to the same degree as the general population. The research
confirms that there is a low take-up of child care in these groups and provides
some explanations and recommendations.

Suffolk Acre, through its Child Care
for All project, is contracted to help deliver and sustain child care
throughout Suffolk. It works with communities to promote communal self-help. It
currently supports over 150 different child care providers across the

county. The research was conducted
in the Ipswich area, Felixstowe, Woodbridge and Saxmundham and used
questionnaires, interviews and anecdotal evidence to test the validity of perceptions
of low take-up of child care by the groups.

The research found that there is a
low take-up of child care among parents and carers from ethnic minorities. The
child care favoured by this group was largely informal with friends and family.
Reasons for the low take-up included financial and historical factors. Families
also feel more comfortable leaving their child with someone who reflected their
“mirror image, culture or immediate environment”. Researchers found there are
few workers from minority backgrounds in child care. The ethnic minority
population in Suffolk is small at about 2.2 per cent, although this figure
increases to 6.5 per cent in some areas, such as south east Ipswich. Child care
is seen as “a white service to a white clientele”. Only 23 per cent of those
with child care needs use formal systems.

Many parents from ethnic minority
groups want to pursue further study or training, but are unsure how to find out
about existing services. They are unsupported from mainstream sources such as
careers services and colleges and have difficulties with application forms.

Parents of children with special
needs said that there was a lack of information on available child care
services. They also wanted greater co-ordination and integration of services.
Isolation was a common theme. Three-quarters said there were insufficient child
care facilities for children with special needs.

Both sets of findings found that
once out of “mainstream” needs, feelings of isolation, lack of confidence (both
personal and in child care itself), confused messages, lack of full information
and that inclusion was not the easy route that it should be, were widespread.

The research provides a range of
recommendations, including the creation of mentors in careers, child care and
employment to support families, and a “one stop shop” for information. It also
suggests developing a working partnership between heath and social care
services and community groups.

Rural communities have particular
problems in the provision of child care with relatively low and widespread
populations, and transport issues. This research is important in raising child
care inclusion in a rural rather than an urban setting. It gives a clear
message to rural communities that they need to focus positively on inclusion of
all groups within the community.

Social care workers need to work
together with the provider groups and challenge assumptions of how child care
is delivered in their area. The research finds “no evidence in the existing
provision of exclusion or discrimination”. It may be helpful to include parents
from ethnic minority groups and those with children with special needs when
planning and delivering services and challenging assumptions further.

Challenging Inclusion. Childcare:
The Way Forward
is available from Suffolk Acre, Suffolk House, 2 Wharfdale
Road, Ipswich IP1 4IP, tel: 01473 242500. See

Gaynor Wingham is director of the
Professional Independents Consultancy.

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