Mortimer, R., Mothers & Mentors: Teaching Ethical and Natural Care in Home Visiting Programs, ABSTRACT accepted for conference

Abstract accepted for the International Association of Bioethics (IAB) Conference, Edinburgh, 14-17 June 2016

Abstract (poster presentation):

Can professional carers teach mothers how to care as mothers? Campbell identifies a conflict between justice and care that renders the very idea of ‘professional care’ a contradiction in terms (2015). In this paper we examine whether such contradiction makes the practice of teaching parenting skills in the context of Home Visiting Programmes (HPVs) fundamentally misguided.

Central to the aims of HVPs is the process of teaching parental care; a family nurse or mentor supports a mother in part by role modelling appropriate caring behaviour. However, it is important to ask what kind of care is being taught in this interface; crucially, are mothers being trained as professional carers? In answering this question we draw on the work Noddings, which distinguishes between ethical and natural care. While natural care arises from spontaneous emotions in response to the needs of the other, in ethical care such response is born out of a desire to mimic the characteristics of an ideal carer.  So, if it is the case that in HVPs mothers are taught to be professional carers, the question arises: is ethical care the appropriate ideal for these mothers to learn?

These questions are of practical and ethical significance. There is a clear benefit to society in teaching parents to care better, especially given the importance of parent-child interactions during the first three years of life. Hence, it is crucial that we interrogate the distinction between professional and parental care in order to understand what HVPs are doing, and how they could improve their positive impact in the context of early interventions with mothers.

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