Reflections on promoting Nurturing Care as a cultural outsider​ [CIES 2024 Presentation]

The rise in popularity of the Nurturing Care Framework, which describes the enabling conditions for a child to thrive in the first several years of life, has resulted in an increase in global attention on parenting and child development. The Framework includes children’s need for good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, opportunities for early learning, and responsive caregiving. While this holistic approach to nurturing young children is surely beneficial, the implementation of Nurturing Care should be considered through a cultural lens. According to McGillicuddy-De Lisi and Subramanian (1996), beliefs about parenting and child development are developed through three means: (1) beliefs come directly (and unquestioned) through the culture; (2) beliefs are formed through the holder’s own childhood, family, and parenting experiences; and (3) beliefs are influenced by the exchange of ideas and assumptions of people from different cultures. Since these beliefs inform parenting behaviors (Bornstein, 2012), we must be thoughtful in any efforts to change parenting and caregiver behaviors which are the result of the culture and the childhood experiences of parents. Changing behavior without an adequate consideration of the underlying cultural beliefs could be at risk of perpetuating colonial legacies and destabilizing cultural ways of being. This presentation focuses on the risks and rewards of taking an approach to shaping caregiving behaviors that considers the importance of cultural continuity. The presentation will use cross-national examples from work with two Native American tribes, the Blackfeet and the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe, as well as traditional international development work in Senegal and Liberia to illustrate opportunities and challenges of foreign technical “expertise.” The differences between efforts to shape parental behaviors, which are clearly culturally-influenced, versus teacher or ECE caregiver behaviors, which may be more subtly cultural, will be examined. Finally, this presentation will offer some practical considerations for other individuals seeking to further Nurturing Care outside their own communities.