In a context of changing family structures, the TSFEPS Project analyzed the way public policy, the family sphere and third sector organizations interact in the field of childcare services. Its specific objective was to understand the impact of these services on social cohesion, and their suitability in responding to the changes in family structures. The research employed a comparative approach, studying eight European Union member states. Its findings were used to develop recommendations on social and family policy. For the TSFEPS project, the different partners also gathered and compared respective analysis during the established joint working sessions.
Aims of the Project
Family structures are changing – amongst others, we can witness the emergence of a more individualized conception of social cohesion. Since childcare services and policies are often developed at the local level, they constitute an opportunity to promote social cohesion. The project team is interested in the ways in which childcare services offer a response to questions raised by changing family structures and how, in turn, they impact on family change. It is exploring collective social constructions that bring into play different public and private actors. The interest is more generally to analyse how conflict and compromise produce different arrangements for “ sharing roles ” between actors, from one country to another. The research partners consider it important to analyse how and according to which social constructions and practices, what systems of actors (public, private, third sector), services adapt their mode of intervention in accordance with changing family structures. By carrying out comparisons between eight European countries, the aim in the present project is also to gain a better understanding of how public policy, particularly in the area of services for young children, is responding to the breakdown of the normative family and of former criteria governing social cohesion and change.
Description of the Project
The project uses a variety of data collection methods drawn from different fields of research, including sociology, family demography, social policy and policies with an impact on families and young children. The analysis is conducted at various levels: European, national and subnational, as well as local government provision of services for young children.
In the first stage of the research, a transversal and multidisciplinary macro-social analysis is being undertaken of inter-dependant contingencies associated with the construction of services for young children at the local level. The research team is examining the development of political and administrative regulations over time, covering within-country variations and social systems of actors (political, administrative, private and third sector, feminist movements and professional associations concerned with young children and childcare provision).
Similarly, analysis of childcare policies involves tracking the different forms of provision using quantitative and qualitative data ; in the case of Bulgaria, data are being constructed from statistics held by the Bulgarian Academy of Science. Developments in public policy and their impact on the implementation of services for young children is being investigated using in-depth semi-directed interviews with social, trade union, civil society, political and administrative actors, including family associations, professionals and employers. The interviews are being used to gain a better understanding of the principles underlying shifts in policy, the tensions between the aims of different actors and the potential contradictions between the policies being pursued.
At the national level, the eight partners are following the common analytical framework agreed on at the outset. The aim is to construct a typology of the social policy regulations introduced in response to changing family structures, and to gain a better understanding of the contrasts between policy and practice in provision of services for young children, with reference to both explicit and implicit aims, and to the contradictions that arise at the level of implementation.
In order to be comprehensive in terms of qualitative sociological methods, case studies are being carried out to analyse the social construction of policies for young children at the local level. This approach is justified by the fact that public policies and services for young children are produced collectively, generally at the local level, involving different forms of co-operation between actors. A study of existing scientific discussion is seen as a prerequisite for constructing a common analytical framework. The case studies are based on a two-stage survey at selected sites. The main research method being used is in-depth interviewing of different actors, supported by secondary analysis of local-level literature, combined with participant observation (meetings with professional, political and administrative actors).
A project such as this comes up against the usual epistemological problems arising from the tension between the theoretical traditions available for problematizing the issues that are central to the research and the diversity of national socio-institutional contexts. The key to the analysis lies in confronting different social constructions of concepts with reference to the contexts in which they are problematized. Comparative research has to deal with the fundamental epistemological question of the spatial location of problems, bearing in mind that they are differentiated and determined by socio-cultural and conceptual contexts as well as specific epistemological traditions. To these problems must be added disparities in statistical constructions and the need to take into account the local specificity in the provision of services that are often the product of local action or forms of governance. Diversity and disparity in data collection, in concepts and ways of understanding reality are also bound up with the increasing importance of the European dimension, which makes national and local levels of analysis even more complicated. In addition, as an applicant country in the process of reconstructing its statistical apparatus, Bulgaria presents another specificity in a situation where it is undergoing economic and political restructuring. To avoid overloading the research process, local areas within the eight countries in the second phase of the research had to be selected, raising issues about sampling criteria, given the large number of variables involved.
Policy relevance of findings
Services for young children can be seen as one of the most important areas of interaction between the public and the private family spheres in responding to the changing family structures. Project findings should, therefore, help to clarify the role of public policy in promoting equality between parents and in protecting the interests of children. They might be expected to provide a better understanding of the contradictions in social policy objectives and recommendations for improving the impact of services for young children and their effects on families. The aim is also to study if the different regulations at EU, national and local levels highlight the need for change in public policy.
The eight partners of the Child care Project worked on the basis of a common perspective. This shared framework was the background for the regular joint working sessions and allowed to integrate analysis and discuss results.
These results were gathered in the form of national reports, national case studies, an intermediary transversal report and a policy recommendation document. All of them are available to download on this page, the last two on the right column and the rest of the documents below.