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Children and Families Research Centre

Barriers to Participation

Grace Rebekah


Barriers to participation: The experiences of disadvantaged young children, their families and professionals in engaging with early childhood services

Contact Rebekah: or visit her staff page at the Institute of Early Childhood


This research explored the barriers and facilitators to participation in early childhood services for families who live in disadvantaged areas of NSW.  The project is funded by the NSW Department of Community Services, a Macquarie University New Staff Grant awarded to Dr Rebekah Grace, and the Bluesands Foundation.  The perspectives of 100 families with young children have been gathered across NSW in in-depth semi-structured parent interviews. The perspectives of pre-school aged children from these same families have also been gathered in interviews. These families were spread across urban, rural and remote areas, and include Indigenous families and families from non-English speaking backgrounds. Focus groups with early childhood professionals were also conducted in six disadvantaged areas across NSW to explore professional perspectives on the barriers to participation for disadvantaged families and the professional supports required to provide quality services. Data collection was completed in November 2009. The final report was delivered in July 2010.


Analysis of the findings is currently underway and will be complete by the end of July 2010. A summary of preliminary findings is presented here.

Themes emerging within parent interviews

  • Parent Education History: Decisions about engagement with early childhood education and care settings are strongly influenced by parent experiences of educational settings when they were children. For example, one father said that he is illiterate and going to school had not helped him so he felt no need for his young son to be in an educational setting any earlier than he had to be.

  • Perspectives on parental roles: Some mothers felt that sending their child to early childhood services would be relinquishing their responsibility to care for their own child.

  • Trust: Parents expressed concerns about whether or not early childhood settings could be trusted to care adequately for their child. For example, one mother complained that workers had left a think jumper on her child all day on a hot day, and another withdrew her child from care when the child was allowed to run around barefoot all day and the bottom of her feet were bleeding.

  • Understanding the importance of early childhood education:  There was  significant variation in the extent to which parents understood the value of early childhood education, ranging from parents feeling very committed to the development of pre-academic and social learning, through to parents who saw no value in these kinds of learning for children of this age.

  • Home-like settings: Parents strongly value early childhood settings that have a home-like feel to them and "do not smell like hospitals".

Themes emerging within child interviews

  • Ownership:  Children value being able to take to early childhood services things that belong to them, and feeling a sense of ownership of objects within the pre-school environment.

  • Friendship and play: Children value most the opportunity to spend time with friends and free play.

  • Connection: Children seek out and value feeling that they have a special relationship with one of the adult workers.

Themes emerging within the worker interviews

  • Money:  Workers were concerned about parents' ability to pay the fees and were frustrated by the need to continuously chase families for money.

  • Trying to be case workers: Workers were concerned that families with complex problems would sometimes look to them for help and yet they are not qualified to play a case-worker role.


Barriers to Participation


  • NSW Department of Human Services
  • Bluesands Foundation
  • Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
  • Macquarie New Staff Grant (MQNS)

NSW Department of Human Services

2007 - 2010

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