What Do Mothers Experiencing Poverty Need to Support Their Young Children? Parent, School, and Policy Perspectives

Abstract

Parents experiencing poverty are rarely consulted about their needs when it comes to supporting the development, well-being, and education of their young children. Furthermore, they are often overlooked as experts on their own needs by actors in positions of power and excluded from spaces and processes that aim to create resources, programs, and policies to support families of young children. Using an ecological systems framework (Bronfenbrenner in: The ecology of human development: experiments by nature and design. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1979), we conducted a qualitative interview study of mothers’ needs in a school community in Central Texas as perceived by multiple community members, including mothers themselves, teachers, school administrators, district leaders, and policymakers (n = 14). The findings show that the three mothers felt they needed more money, time, opportunities for self-care, and validation to support their young children in the ways they would like to. Actors in positions of power (teachers, school administrators, district leaders, and policymakers) however, primarily discussed mothers’ needs for education, training, and models of parenting. To a lesser extent, actors in positions of power also discussed needs that partially reflected those expressed by mothers, including a need for higher wages and more money, childcare to free up time, and emotional support or social capital to provide validation of mothers’ parenting. We discuss the importance of understanding mothers’ needs as they are expressed by mothers themselves, the danger of framing support for parents experiencing poverty using a banking model of education (Freire in: Pedagogy of the oppressed: 30th anniversary edition. Continuum, New York, 2000), and areas of alignment from which we can build towards dialogic understanding and collaboration.

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Correspondence to Molly E. McManus.

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McManus, M.E., Suizzo, M. What Do Mothers Experiencing Poverty Need to Support Their Young Children? Parent, School, and Policy Perspectives. Child Adolesc Soc Work J (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10560-020-00673-5

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Keywords

  • Parenting
  • Parents’ voices
  • Families experiencing poverty
  • Child rearing
  • Ecological systems