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Understanding low-income mothers' efforts to safeguard young children in the home : an exploratory study Olsen, Lise Lindquist

Abstract

Unintentional injuries in the home environment pose a significant threat to the health of young children. Children living in lower-income environments are also known to be at greater risk for injuries. Little is known, however, about how mothers' protect their children from injuries and how the contexts in which they live shape these efforts. In this study, qualitative methods were employed to explore mothers' efforts to keep their children safe in the home. Data collection took place in the homes of participants using interviews and observations. Seventeen mothers and their children (1-5 years old) who lived in a medium-sized community participated in the study. Three different approaches were used to analyze the data including ethnography, discourse analysis and gender based analysis. The study findings revealed that mothers' efforts to safeguard children were extensive, time consuming and involved actions directed at children as well as at the social and physical environments. Mothers often took their child safety efforts for granted and a variety of contextual factors were found to shape these efforts. Furthermore, women's accounts of their children's injuries also revealed how they aligned themselves with dominant cultural expectations about mothering and child safety but also how they challenged these expectations. On the whole, mothers expressed a strong commitment to keeping their children safe and described ways that their safety efforts were both supported and constrained. These constraints included a lack of financial resources, limited options for assistance with childcare, a restriction of social ties, presence of outdoor hazards, and challenges related to modifying the physical household environment. The analysis also showed how women's safety activities were closely linked to their gendered practices as mothers. These study findings suggest that future research needs to address how children's injuries can be prevented through better supports for mothers' home safety efforts and increased understandings of mothers' perspectives about child safety. When planning injury prevention interventions, practitioners need to consider how the meanings that mothers hold about child safety, and the constraints and realities they face living in challenging social conditions may affect their uptake and use of safety messages.

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