Community playgroups have significant social and economic benefits not just for children but also for their parents, particularly mothers, according to new research.
Relationships Matter: The Social and Economic Benefits of Community Playgroups, funded by Playgroup Australia and undertaken by RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research (CUR), identifies the benefits playgroups afford parents across the social spectrum.
Lead author Dr Ian McShane from CUR said the report found that playgroups’ role in building social capital and community capacity set them apart from other forms of early childhood services.
“We know that playgroups have significant developmental benefits for children, yet we found after interviewing parents for this research that this only tells half the story of their value,” McShane said.
“Playgroups provide valued social support and peer education for parents, particularly mothers, at a challenging time of life, contributing to personal development, including learning new skills and knowledge.”
Playgroup Victoria’s CEO Danny Schwarz said it was clear from the report that parents’ participation in playgroup provides huge benefits to them, especially in forming strong social connections.
“Playgroups help build communities and strengthen the integration of a community’s early year’s services, encouraging a smooth transition from first time parent groups to playgroup, kinder and school,” he said.
Some participants of the study reported that joining a playgroup is crucial for vulnerable mums, helping reassure them that what they’re going through is normal.
Report co-author Dr Kay Cook said the study also found that playgroups gave some mums the confidence to return to work while raising their children or provided a pathway to volunteering in other settings.
“While it was not the main focus of this research, we also found that playgroups are a site for mums to develop new skills to take with them back to the workforce,” Cook said.
She said boosting female participation in the labour market is an important avenue for increasing economic output.
“We found that playgroups’ contribution to the ‘human capital’ in terms of providing playgroup members new skills and knowledge – most of who are female – is of large economic value.
“We hope this research can help contribute to the policy conversations on early childhood services, particularly by recognising and supporting the distinctive role of community playgroups in the childcare landscape.”
The findings are based on both qualitative interviews with community playgroup coordinators and parents/carers, and quantitative data analysis using the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.
Story: Chanel Bearder