“Poor and content is rich and rich enough”? Pre-school and the remediation of child poverty within the 21st century neoliberal welfare regime

Funded by the British Academy, this research investigated the global uptake a neoliberal ‘new politics of parenting’, which discursively constructs parents in poverty as the reason for, and remedy to, child poverty.

From this perspective Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) becomes a key global policy lever by using human technologies to promote strong parenting, positive home learning environments and support for children's early years.

Interviews were conducted with 30 ECEC practitioners in three locations across England - Durham/Tees Valley, Northamptonshire and Worcestershire. There is an ECEC 'quality gap' between relatively advantaged and disadvantaged areas. Interviewees all had level 5 qualifications or above and were senior ECEC practitioners - higher qualifications are also associated with quality. Findings revealed the neoliberal discursive formation of child poverty as a problem of the poor themselves has symbolic power and was shared by the majority of interviewees.

But this worked to restrict thinking and action shaping a limited engagement with parents in poverty. Requirements within England attached to the Early Years Foundation Stage further delimited practitioners' practices with children in poverty and reduced their poverty sensitivity.

With 1 in 4 children predicted to be living in poverty across England by 2020 the research suggests there may be a need for a poverty proofing toolkit within the pre-school sector.

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