Researching Public Law and Public Policy in the Public Interest

The Ties That Bind: How Childcare Centers Build Social Capital

From the Huffington Post:

Commentators have been sounding the alarm for several years now that the Internet is making us more isolated, replacing real friendships with meaningless online followers and contributing to a long-term decline in social capital. However, many of the tools for avoiding isolation have not changed in at least a generation. They are, in fact, being used routinely by a major segment of the population: mothers of young children.

For many years, I studied the experiences of mothers whose children were enrolled in New York City childcare centers. My team and I interviewed rich and poor mothers, blacks, whites, Asians, and Latinas, extroverts and introverts and everything in between. We visited centers, participated in parent-teacher events, and fielded large-scale surveys. We found that, because of the way their centers were structured, many mothers built strong, meaningful social connections that challenged the notion that we are doomed to social isolation.

However, the mothers avoided isolation not because they were committed to building social networks -- though many of them were -- but because their centers organized parental responsibilities and commitments in ways necessary for the centers to function. These commitments were also useful, in often unintended ways, for the formation of meaningful social ties. For example, many of the centers had pedagogical commitments to expose children to nature and culture through field trips. But the adult-to-child ratio that works in a closed room is too low for public spaces where children may trip over museum artifacts or stick their hands in monkey cages. To run field trips, centers needed parent volunteers. And since even the busiest parents would do for their children what they would not do for themselves, a larger number of field trips resulted in a greater number of repeated activities where parents met others and built social networks.

Read the article in its entirety on the Huffington Post