Continuity of Care for Infants, Toddlers and Two-Year-Olds in Group-Based ECEC Settings (2017)
This small-scale, qualitative study explores an approach to infant and toddler early childhood education and care practice that is known in the USA as Continuity of Care (COC). Within settings where COC is adopted, adults are assigned to a group of key children as their primary caregivers and they remain with the same group of children over time, often for up to three years (see Sosinsky, Ruprecht, Horm et al 2016). In some contexts (which offer full day ECEC in group-based settings that are publicly-funded or privately run), the group stays in one room for the entire duration of the children’s time at the setting and the environment is adapted to suit the evolving needs and interests of the children over time. In others, the entire group – adults and children – moves annually from one room to another on the understanding that the new environment will ‘promote optimal learning and development’ (NAEYC 2009) and will facilitate Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Alternatively, mixed age groupings may be accommodated together. As the oldest children move to new provision (usually a preschool), new members of the group are assimilated. The underlying theoretical basis for this approach is strongly developmental, relational, draws on attachment theory and rests principally on relationship-based pedagogies of care (see McMullen, Yun, Mihai & Kim 2016). ‘Primary caregivers’ are assigned to groups of children and are expected to develop strong relationships with these children and their families. The primary caregiver approach is akin to the Key Person Approach in England but in COC settings in the USA the group generally stays together for a much longer period of time than a Key Person stays with key children in England (except in childminding contexts).
This current research, which adopts a critical ecological perspective (Urban 2011), explores the structures, processes and practices of COC and practitioners’ (US teachers’) beliefs about the concept of professionalism in relation to their particular philosophy and modus operandi and in the context of the comparatively low pay and low status for the work of infant and toddler teachers in the USA and internationally (see e.g. Lash and McMullen 2008; Lyons 2012; Goouch and Powell 2013; Davis and Degotardi 2015).
The research question was: What constitutes professionalism in group-based ECEC settings that have established continuity of care (COC) approaches for children from birth to 36 months? A sub-question, which was derived from the literature, was: Does COC enhance the status of the professionals who work with children under three?
These questions translated into three aims, which were to:
- Understand the nature of COC as described and practised;
- Gather COC teachers’ perspectives on the concept of professionalism as it applies to their work;
- Identify any potential links made by the teachers between the specific philosophies and practices of COC and the teachers’ understandings of the concept of professionalism and their perceptions of professional status.
Unstructured observations of COC in practice were undertaken in classrooms where groups of children ranged in age from 9 to 36 months in any given setting. No mixed-age groupings were observed so the children were among peers who were of similar ages, e.g. all two-year-olds. Group sizes ranged 8 to 12 children per room with two co-teachers and an assistant. The classroom (sic) observations of seven different groups of children in four settings lasted from 1 to 3 hours each. These research activities were supplemented by guided tours of a further four settings. In two of these, the Managers explained their ethos, guiding principles and policies for licensing and funding their work.
Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 20 teachers (of whom three were also Program Directors) from four ECEC settings in two US states: Indiana and Oklahoma. In all four settings, COC was a practice that had been established for many years; two were privately run and two were publicly-funded settings that receive Early Head Start funding. All four settings are licensed by their respective state authorities and accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
All the COC staff who took part in the interviews were described as teachers; were educated to bachelor’s degree level or higher (many had achieved a master’s degree or were studying for one, while another had a doctorate); and had specialist knowledge, experience and training for working with children from birth to three.
The interviews with teachers were voluntary and ranged in length from 45 to 90 minutes. All but two were audio recorded (these two took place in the classrooms where the noise levels made audio recording difficult and so handwritten notes were made instead). All the data collection activities took place with the participants’ informed consent and the settings had in place arrangements for parental consent, where applicable.
Some settings showed or gave copies of documentation, including developmental profiles of the children based on observations; structured observation and assessment tools; and ethical codes for practice. In one setting, I was invited to photograph a series of written texts that described characteristics and qualities that the teachers admired in one another. These had been created during a group discussion and were displayed on the wall next to the teachers’ photographs.
In addition, I took part as a non-participant observer in two university-based seminars with ECEC students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and one with university ECEC staff. I observed presentations on aspects of care that some of the students gave about their studies and I was presented with a book that the group had created about the concept of care with their Professor.
Analysis is currently underway and the findings from the study will be reported here as well as in journal articles and conference presentations. Please check back in due course for updates on this research.