In Our Hands: The Struggle for U.S. Child Care Policy, by Elizabeth Palley and Corey S. Shdaimah, 2014, New York and London, New York University Press, 288 pages, $30 (print list price), ISBN: 978-1-4798-6265-8.
In Our Hands: The Struggle for U.S. Child Care Policy serves as a call to action to fix our fragmented child care system, which fails to meet the child care needs of children of all ages and families across the socioeconomic spectrum. The authors are strong supporters of developing a universal child care system and voice hope for a social movement in which child care advocates coalesce around a unitary agenda, moving us toward this ultimate goal. A theme throughout the book is that, for such a drastic change to be feasible, there must first be a paradigm shift from viewing child care as a private matter to perceiving it as a societal issue that requires government intervention.
This well-researched, and clearly written, case study provides social work practitioners, educators, and students with a substantive foundation regarding the critical issue of child care policy, including progress that has been made and the significant gaps that still exist. Importantly, the authors provide ideas regarding what is needed to improve the child care system and how we might get there. Lessons regarding the policy process, and what is necessary to be an effective policy advocate, abound throughout the book as the authors discuss child care policy.
Whether or not the intent of the authors, the fact that the lessons delivered can be applied to any social policy elevates the already high value of this book for its comprehensive coverage of the issues surrounding child care policy and path to possible change. For example, in addition to devoting a whole chapter to framing, framing is discussed throughout the book as the authors provide an historical overview of child care; an analysis of past and current child care policy; and the different narratives, language, and focus of various groups invested in the care of children. An example of the latter is their discussion of how the pre-K movement has gained momentum by focusing on early childhood education, and framing their message on the importance of quality pre-school. They point out that if the frames are only about education, and not inclusive of children younger than three, or pre-K children when they are not in an educational setting, we end up with an approach that falls short of addressing all child care needs.
Another key policy lesson the authors make clear is that child care policy is not the result of simply gathering sufficient data. Ideology, as well as structural and financial forces, have been and will continue to be key. The authors also discuss other important influencing factors that those seeking to have an impact on child care policy need to understand. Among them are agenda setting, political context, potential unintended consequences of how the issue is framed and the resulting policy, the need for compromise, the influence of race and class, and the roles of interest groups. These same factors come into play regardless of the social policy issue.
On a slightly different note, one more significant contribution of In Our Hands: The Struggle for U.S. Child Care Policy that merits mentioning is that it shines light on the need for social workers to live up to the mandate of our profession and engage in systematic change.
Reviewed by Laura Lewis, Ph.D., LSW, Professor, Social Work/Applied Sociology Department, Mercyhurst University.