Edith Cowan University
Parents’ ability to rely on their social contacts to access different types of support is said to reflect their levels of Social Capital (SC). Playgroups are considered a hub for fostering SC that will benefit parents (Powell, 2005). However, empirical evaluations of playgroups that measure their effectiveness using measures of SC are scarce. The present study investigated early parental interactions in playgroups and the ways in which such interactions reflect parents’ levels of SC. Additionally, the study evaluated SC inequalities between parents relative to the strength of their social ties. A qualitative design, using phenomenology was used to understand the lived experience of parents during playgroups, their connections with other parents and their subjective evaluation of how they were supported. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with fifteen first and second time parents who were recruited via information letters emailed to metropolitan Playgroups. Verbatim transcriptions of voice-recorded interviews were analysed using thematic analysis. Data gave rise to three main themes which were, ‘getting together’, ‘generating stocks of SC’ and ‘missing out’. From the themes it was shown that bridging and bonding ties were created during Playgroups that resulted in moderate and rich levels of SC resources, respectively. Additionally, some parents were less successful in securing strong bonds and consequently missed out on accessing some of the social resource during Playgroups. The results suggest that while Playgroups provide network opportunities, they can also foster judgement, conformity, dominant ideologies and SC inequalities. There are implications for facilitated Playgroups and policy considerations for SC inequalities. The results also provide theoretical implications for bonding versus bridging frameworks which seem to be inconsistent with the findings.