Thematic Panel 24: Access barriers to early childhood education and care (ECEC): spatial, temporal and structural challenges


Ingela Naumann, University of Edinburgh & University of Fribourg

ECEC provision has expanded considerably in recent decades across many countries. This expansion is generally seen as policy success with respect to national social investment aims, the support of children’s development and parents’ labour market participation. However, aggregate data on ECEC participation rates hides many forms of access inequalities: in many countries, there exist geographical gaps in provision particularly with respect to rural areas or disadvantaged urban areas. We may also find uneven regional or local distributions of different types of ECEC – of full-time or part-time provision, public or private settings (often operating with different regulatory frameworks and fees structures), the availability of ECEC centres or family-based childminding services and so forth. This uneven availability of different ECEC services narrows down choices for families and creates take-up and access barriers particularly with respect to employment constraints and specific needs of families (e.g. around disability). Furthermore, ECEC system design, admission procedures and timetables can create additional access barriers and logistical challenges for families (e.g. where children of different ages in the household attend different types of settings). Lastly, we know that children from some groups in society are less likely to attend formal ECEC settings and that spatial and structural access challenges are compounded by ethnic and cultural barriers. 

This session thus speaks to the conference theme of exploring geographical, social and administrative boundaries that shape ECEC access and that may have unequal effects on individual and family wellbeing, household finances and opportunities.

We invite contributions from different disciplines (social policy, sociology, geography, ethnography, economics etc.) that examine diverse aspects of access barriers to formal ECEC provision in different national contexts as well as in international comparison. Whilst we expect papers to be grounded in empirical studies, we also welcome conceptual contributions with a focus on the dynamics and mechanisms of ECEC systems with respect to ECEC availability and access inequality. We particularly welcome papers employing innovative methods in capturing different dimensions of ECEC access barriers, including new tools for data visualisation.