Daycare Trust calls for a childcare workforce that better represents the ethnic diversity of the children being cared for, and for better communication with parents whose first language is not English.
This follows the results of focus groups with black and minority ethnic (BME) childcare workers. Daycare Trust believes action in these areas could help address the problem of BME families missing out on the benefits of the government's flagship children's centre programme.
The focus groups were carried out in six children's centres in areas of high ethnic diversity, as part of the national childcare charity's Ensuring Equality project, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The results are published today in a briefing paper, Ensuring Equality - The black and minority ethnic childcare workforce, available from Daycare Trust.
Aoife Fitzpatrick, the researcher who conducted the focus groups, said: "Many of the workers believed that some black and minority ethnic families are not using childcare because they see it as something for middle-class white people." she said.
"The research shows that, to promote a sense of belonging and entitlement to childcare services, BME families need warm, welcoming childcare settings with staff from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. Excellent communication between parents and staff is essential, which may include access to interpreters."
While some children's centres are making efforts to engage with BME families who are missing out, however, the childcare workers surveyed felt that this was most effectively done through people from the same community. Workers interviewed suggested a number of ways to effectively engage with BME families. These included:
outreach/information provision, carried out by people from the same ethnic background or from the same locality
creating a welcoming, inclusive childcare environment provided by an ethnically diverse workforce and
open communication between workers and parents, especially when the family first approaches the setting, including the use of interpreters where necessary.
"Having an ethnically diverse workforce has a number of advantages," said Aoife. "It helps BME families feel that they belong, helps families interact with people from ethnic backgrounds that they might not otherwise encounter, and helps children prepare for a multicultural society, particularly important when they start school."
However, the workers felt that the precise ethnicity of a particular worker was not as important as (a) the diversity of the staff group as a whole and (b) employing good childcare workers who responded to the needs of the individual child and family. They also called for more men to be employed in childcare, something that many parents would endorse.
"All the childcare workers interviewed for the report had been childcare workers for many years, loved their jobs and saw childcare as a vocation. They also wanted to point out that they were qualified educators and carers. They felt that their jobs had low status, and that their professionalism was not often recognised by the public," said Aoife.
"They also stressed the importance of good terms and conditions in retaining high quality workers, and felt that childcare workers themselves had a role to play in promoting childcare as a career."
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