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The States of Child Care: Building a Better System

reviewed by Jeanne Marie Iorio - October 22, 2015

coverTitle: The States of Child Care: Building a Better System
Author(s): Sara Gable
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807754749, Pages: 208, Year: 2013
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The disjointed child care system in the United States and the need for consistent, high-quality care are both addressed in The States of Child Care: Building a Better System. Author Sara Gable shares a descriptive history of policy related to non-parental care in the United States, the challenges behind creating a national child care system, and other related research that serves as a foundation for recommendations “for incremental progress toward a national, coordinated system of child care” (p. 144). Included in the text are research studies conducted by the author that offer commentary on real issues surrounding child care, including tensions between mothers and child care providers, assumptions regarding purpose of care, and how a shared vision can be implemented in policy and practice. The author presents the information and discussion in a manner that will be appealing to the general public, policymakers, researchers, and educators, offering a starting point for thinking about child care.

The book begins with the context for the current state of non-parental care in terms of policy, funding, and those who use child care in the United States. Gable defines the “traditions” in child care, beginning with the fact that there has never been one approach within the United States, continuing with the description of how policy is meant to support working parents (in particular, mothers), and ending with the purpose of child care—to ready children for school and ensure healthy development. These traditions aided in developing a fragmented system of child care within the United States, while consistently influencing federal policy decisions, such as implemented federal regulations, reforms, educational policy, councils, and education and child development services (Head Start, Early Head Start, State-funded Prekindergarten Programs).

The author also shares the history and policies around the development of the present fractured system of child care, void of common purpose and full of ambiguity. Gable describes her empirical research study focused on the names of child care centers in order to establish the vagueness of purpose to the public. The study categorized and analyzed the names of centers as well as the reactions to the centers’ names. Under the assumption that her undergraduate students would be future consumers of child care, the author utilized her students as participants to gauge parental opinion. While the inclusion of this study may have furthered the chapter’s intention, the research was limited by the fact that the participants may or may not be parents, yet still made suppositions about parental opinion.

A historical and in-depth discussion about work, childcare, and women follows as Gable delineates the history, policies, and tensions around women—particularly mothers who work. She includes another research study, which explored the complex relationships between child care providers and working mothers and how this relationship influences child care policy. Interestingly, this study reveals that the tension exists between women (especially mothers) and work rather than between working mothers and child care providers, raising an interesting possibility for rethinking the image of the child care worker. The author proposes, “If the United States could move toward a system, or a state, of child care with a professionalized workforce, society’s concerns about other “maternal” and “non-maternal” figures in children’s lives might be alleviated and child care providers’ vital work and contributions to society could be taken seriously” (p. 78).

Gable explains in Chapter Four the details of research, policy, and practices around quality and related accountabilities. This information directly relates to the author’s observations on the disconnected system of child care. The chapter highlights some disturbing limitations regarding child care research, most of which cannot document the complexity of early childhood. Therefore, “facts are hard to come by and decisions become a matter of what is believed to be right. Consequently, child care and early education policy is akin to a leap of faith—albeit an evidence-based leap—based on what is believed best for children, for families, and for society overall” (p. 81). Gable ends the chapter noting how sectors of child care and early education concentrating on academic outcomes are aligning with the federal agenda’s obsession with readiness and results and are therefore privy to more funding. This trend evades the actual issues in developing a more connected child care and early education system.

Conversely, Gable hails North Carolina’s Early Childhood System as a “shining star” due to its united structure of shared vision, committed leadership and participation, flexibility, and use of appropriate early childhood practices. Included in this chapter are the voices of the North Carolina Discussion Group (NCDG), compiled by Gable from her “guided discussions” with the group to document the “process of change that resulted in NC’s system” (p. 120). The author emphasizes what could be when a system works collaboratively and suggests that this could be the model for a connected national system. However, the overall discussion of North Carolina’s system seems to occur in a vacuum with little critical reflection regarding political intentionality. For example, it does not consider which groups are marginalized within this system, or whether the practices and policies implemented through this system open spaces to consider issues of social class, race, gender, and power. Engaging with this type of interrogation could spotlight how the system may perpetuate the status quo even in its commitment to quality and equity for all children. Further, the author chooses to only focus on one child care system within the United States. Including a discussion of child care systems across the world could offer multiple frames to consider the limitations of the current system in the United States and the possibilities of how policies and practices can be structured to create a more coordinated national child care system.

The final chapter in the text presents three recommendations to building a better system of child care. Gable offers long-term, short-term, and intermediate goals for consideration. While the goals are directly connected to the case she makes throughout the chapters, adding a critical lens to the overall work would strengthen this chapter as well as the entire text. The history and detailed explanations of policy and practices provide the reader with the necessary tools for understanding the choices made to build the current disjointed child care system in the United States.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 22, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18181, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 8:46:50 AM

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About the Author
  • Jeanne Marie Iorio
    Victoria University
    E-mail Author
    JEANNE MARIE IORIO is a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Victoria University. She completed her doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University where she began rethinking child-adult conversations as aesthetic experiences. Her interests in disrupting and rethinking accepted early childhood practices inform her research, teaching, and writing. She recently published an edited text (with Will Parnell) Rethinking Readiness in Early Childhood Education: Implications for Policy and Practice (2015) and is currently editing (with Will Parnell) Disrupting Early Childhood Education Research: Imagining New Possibilities (Routledge).
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