[Parentsgroup-list] thoughts on the recent survey

Ryan Larsen rlarsen at deas.harvard.edu
Tue May 31 16:17:47 EDT 2005


hi Parent's group,

I thought I would take the liberty of sharing some of my concerns about the=
 Harvard Family Care Survey that was conducted several weeks ago.  I sent t=
his to the Task Forces on Women, and the administrators at the Office of wo=
rk and family and Human Resources.  If you would like to express any though=
ts about these issues to the Task Forces on Women you can find their e-mail=
 at their webpage http://www.womenstaskforces.harvard.edu/.



thanks,

Ryan







To: Task Forces on Women, Nancy Costikyan, Marilyn Hausammann

From: Ryan J. Larsen, Ph. D. Candidate in Applied Physics

May 26, 2005 =


 =


I am writing to express some concerns about the Harvard University Family C=
are Survey recently sponsored by Harvard University and written by Bright H=
orizons, Inc.  In an e-mail inviting all university employees and students =
to take the survey, Marilyn Hausammann, Vice President of Human Resources a=
t Harvard, explained the purpose of the survey, "This survey is part of an =
assessment designed to deepen the University's understanding of the challen=
ges today's families face as they integrate family with work or study."  In=
 an April 29,2005 letter posted on the Task Forces on Women website, Ms. Ha=
usammann said that "We are working closely with Bright Horizons in the deve=
lopment of survey instruments and assessment processes to ensure they are b=
oth sound and unbiased."  My purpose in writing this letter is to show that=
 1) the writers of the survey were focused more on improving Harvard's work=
 environment then in the "challenges today's families face" and 2) the surv=
ey is biased because the writers of the survey chose to ignore those parent=
s at Harvard who seek to finance full or partial parental care for their ch=
ildren.  =


 =


First I will show that the writers of the survey were more interested in th=
e Harvard working environment then the needs of families. The survey asked,=
 "How do you feel expanding child care accessibility to Harvard community m=
embers would affect Harvard in the following areas?:  Morale, Teamwork, Per=
formance, Attendance, Community Image, Recruitment, Retention."  If the sur=
vey had been written to "understand the challenges today's families face," =
it might have also included a question like,  "How do you feel expanding ch=
ild care accessibility to Harvard community members would affect families i=
n the Harvard community?"  =


 =


Another example: the survey asked,  "In the last year, have difficulties wi=
th your child care arrangements caused you to:" and then lists seventeen ne=
gative experiences that can happen with a career, such as missing work beca=
use a child is sick, not being able to meet job performance expectations, o=
r missing a meeting or other university activity.  Note that the emphasis i=
s on childcare arrangements causing problems at work.  Had the survey write=
rs been truly interested in families, they might have asked about work issu=
es that cause family problems. To this end, the survey might have also incl=
uded a question like,  "In the last year, have difficulties with your work/=
career requirements caused you to:," and then listed things such negative f=
amily experiences as missing tending to your sick child, not being able to =
meet your personal expectations of good parenting, missing your children's =
concerts or other family-centered events.

 =


Another example:  the survey asked, "Has your spouse or partner's career be=
en negatively affected by family care responsibilities?"  A balanced survey=
 might have also included a question like, "Has your family been negatively=
 affected by you or your partner's career responsibilities?"  =


 =


My second concern about the survey is that it operates under the assumption=
 that if parents were given financial aid, they would use it to either pay =
for or improve their existing non-parental childcare.  The survey writers c=
hose to ignore that some parents may wish to use financial aid to finance p=
arental care, or to increase the amount of parental care their children rec=
eive.  =


 =


I could cite several survey questions to support this claim, but I will onl=
y cite one.  Question 20 of the survey that reads "We are interested in whi=
ch combination of family support options creates the "best package" of serv=
ices and supports for you and your family." The responder is asked to rate =
four non-parental forms of childcare. The writers of the survey decided tha=
t anyone interested in aid packages that allow them to provide more parenta=
l care are not worth sampling.   =


 =


In my personal experience I know a number of families, including Harvard st=
udent families, who make financial and career sacrifices in order to provid=
e more parental care for their children.  Sometimes a parent reduces the nu=
mber of hours he or she works in order to meet their family challenges.  Ot=
her parents work part-time or even choose to be full-time parents.  The nee=
ds and aspirations of all parents who desire more parental care for their c=
hildren were categorically ignored in this survey.   It is clear from the s=
urvey that Bright Horizons is not interested in supporting, or even samplin=
g, this population.

 =


Why would Bright Horizons ignore this population?  Could it be because Brig=
ht Horizons is in the business of providing day care?  Since Bright Horizon=
s chose to ignore those who desire more parental care in its survey, it is =
likely that Bright Horizons will fail to represent the interests of this po=
pulation in their final analysis.  =


 =


This survey is biased and does not fulfill Ms. Hausammann's stated purpose =
to "understand the challenges today's families face."  The focus of this su=
rvey is improving Harvard's working environment.  This survey is certainly =
not about helping families for the sake for helping families.

 =


In the spirit of Ms. Hausammann's stated commitment to assess the needs of =
families, I encourage the Harvard administration to consider developing a n=
ew survey created by a diverse committee representing the views of all inte=
rested parties:  university administrators, faculty, staff, employees, and =
students.    Such a committee should be chosen to represent both the univer=
sity working environment perspective and the family perspective, as well as=
 representing both those who want more parental care, and those who want mo=
re non-parental care.  If the Harvard administration does not perform a mor=
e reliable survey than that prepared by a large day care company, they will=
 not succeed in assessing the needs and desires of the wide range of famili=
es in the Harvard community.

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