Abstract: Early Childhood Education and Care in Hawaii: Child Development or Working Parent Support? (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Early Childhood Education and Care in Hawaii: Child Development or Working Parent Support?

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jing Guo, PhD, Associate Professor, PhD Program Chair, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI
Background and Purpose: Hawaii is among the most expensive states in terms of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services. More than 65 percent of parents with young children in Hawaii are employed; childcare arrangements are a common challenge for working parents. Hawaii only started providing public-funded preschools since 2014, while Governor Ige in January 2019 proposed to work for universal preschool.  ECEC policy and programs are often justified by two primary policy frames: One stresses the potential child developmental benefits, while the other focuses on its support for parental (maternal) employment. Framing theory in public policy studies suggest that policy decisions are influenced by the frames used in the communication between policy elite actors and the public. This study applies Entman (1993)’s framing concept and aims to examine how ECEC issues and related policy initiatives are framed and discussed in Hawaii.  

Methods: We drew data from newspapers and legislative written testimony. Newspapers articles not only show how an issue is framed by and for policy elite actors, but serve as a source of political information for the public. Written legislative testimony reveal the views and opinions of policy stakeholders concerning the issue. Using the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Database, which includes major newspaper circulation in Hawaii, we identified 26 articles related to “child care”, “preschool” “infant and toddler care”, and “early learning” between 2012-2019. Using the Hawaii’s State Legislature website Archives atwww.capitol.hawaii.gov, we searched the HB820 relating to public early childhood education in 2015 (cited by the newspaper articles) and identified a set of committee reports and written testimony. Considering “child development” and “working parent support” as two primary policy frames, we conducted a content analysis of the selected newspaper articles and written testimony. Meanwhile, we examined the presence of four perspectives of framing from Entman’s concept: defining problems, interpreting causes, offering moral evaluations, and suggesting remedies.

Results: For the newspaper articles, the ECEC issues mostly were presented in the “child development” frame, as an investment for children, family and community. The “working parent support” frame was used in a few articles sharing reports on child care needs in Hawaii. It is argued that children of low-income families need ECEC programs to gain equal opportunity for school readiness and future success. In the written testimony to establish pre-kindergarten, unsurprisingly, almost all testimony used the importance of “child development” frame in support of the bill, except the testimony from the Department of Human Services, which mentioned child care needs for working parents.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings suggest that the child development frame is dominant in the ECEC policy discussion in Hawaii, while the working parent support frame is rarely used in justifying ECEC policy development. Relatedly, preschool is the leading policy initiative, while infant and toddlers care, related to parental employment, is not high on policymakers’ agenda. Policy advocates could use these findings to promote ECEC policies, and pay attention to unmet needs.