All bets are off when it comes to families choosing education and care post pandemic

by Freya Lucas

June 30, 2020

As life has become more precarious, anxious, and accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated restrictions and changes to working routines, families seeking options to educate and care for their children have become more ‘free flowing’ in their decision making, researchers have found.

 

Rather than having a combination of strategic activities and well-planned decisions, when normality is disrupted abruptly, family care looks more like “an intricate improvised ‘dance’.”

 

Published in the Journal of Marketing Management by researchers at the University of Birmingham (UK), University of Melbourne (Australia) and Adolfo Ibanez University (Chile), the researchers note that while some families may be enjoying more free time because they are not commuting, others face unprecedented situations, such as disrupted careers, caring for others and suffering from the loss of income.

 

When planning ahead and making decisions about family care is disrupted, and not possible because of a variety of “unknowns” families respond by undertaking two types of activities – grounding activities, which provide some predictability and day to day routine – and aerial activities, which soothe, inspire and motivate family members.

 

While families are ‘dancing’ their expectations, needs and requirements, in terms of what they seek from an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service may vary. 

 

The findings are also of interest to the ECEC sector in reminding providers of the need to be aware of, and attuned to, the changing needs of employees and families during this time. 

 

Those working with children and families should avoid making assumptions about how the pandemic has impacted individuals and family groups, Dr Pilar Rojas Gaviria from the University of Birmingham said. 

 

“Many families are struggling with mental health while others are coping well. Many have lost friends or family members, others have not.”

 

“This means that organisations should aim to better understand the needs of individual employees and their families and think about how they can support them by acknowledging that these needs are different and that they evolve through time.”

 

For those families who are already dealing with intensive needs – such as managing a chronic health condition, the unplanned disruptions from COVID-19 have a particular impact. 

 

In a study of families living with diabetic children, researchers discovered how, in the midst of chaos, each family finds its own style to ‘dance’ through their life constraints by alternating ‘grounding’ and ‘aerial’ activities.

 

While the process often occurs instinctively and invisibly, it is usually led by one family member who orchestrates” resources and talents at hand to help their family develop its ‘dance’ – an additional element for ECEC providers to be aware of when considering the burdens placed on a majority female workforce who are more likely to be organising family ‘dances’ at the same time. 

 

“In keeping that ‘dance’ going, it is essential for the family to balance ‘grounding movements’ with ‘aerial movements’, Dr Rojas Gaviria added.

 

Grounding activities, such as  knitting, gardening and baking were combined with ‘aerial’ activities such as becoming a helping hand in the community, placing rainbows in the family home’s windows, supporting local shops, fisheries and farms, or raising funds to comfort families and help them connect to each other, even from a distance, Dr. Rojas Gaviria added – activities which may need to be continued as children return to ECEC. 

 

As Australia and the rest of the world moves through to the next stages of navigating the pandemic, Dr. Rojas Gaviria argues that there is “an untapped need” for public policies and support programmes to be flexible and adaptable to different moments and different life circumstances and that aim at enhancing the creative competencies of the families.

 

“The aim should be helping families gather resources for movement (energy, time, focus, hope in the future) instead of telling them how to move by setting very strict rules that not everyone is able to follow. Designing a diverse set of support tools that can be offered for different circumstances and at different moments in time is a challenge for our societal systems,” she added.

 

‘Restoring balance: How consumers orchestrate family care following unplanned disruption’ as published in the Journal of Marketing Management may be accessed here

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