Women leaders in early childhood health, human services, and education face tremendous challenges in their efforts to cultivate resilience amidst a myriad of risk factors including incessant stress, low wages, and limited professional support. Women who foster mental health in young children and high-risk families are vulnerable to secondary traumatic stress. The purpose of this feminist phenomenological study was to understand the resilience process with women leaders in Early Childhood. No studies were found that centered on resilience with this interdisciplinary profession. Research was guided by principles of feminist standpoint, relational-cultural, and resiliency theories. Twenty women alumnae of a leadership development program sponsored by a university in a western state were interviewed twice to learn about professional and personal aspects.
The findings indicate alarming levels of professional stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. Sixty-five percent of the women experienced acute and chronic professional stress resulting in significant health issues. Fifty-five percent are at risk for burnout and secondary traumatic stress due to limited resources, lack of effective supervision and organizational leadership, and escalating needs of high-risk children and families.
Women also described significant personal stress including 65% from childhood traumas, 45% from adulthood adversities, and 80% from parenting children including 65% who have children with special needs. All of the women have experienced discrimination: 85% reported sexism and 53% reported sexual harassment. All of the women of color and one of the women in a biracial marriage have experienced racism. Seventy-five percent of younger women have experienced ageism.
Women employed a myriad of strategies to cultivate resilience first through supportive relationships, then resource finding, spiritual and cultural beliefs, self-care, and education. The women fostered an array of resilient qualities and skills including strategic problem solving, assertive boundary setting, positive outlook, and self-reliance. Women leaders persevere motivated by their altruistic purpose to make a difference in the lives of children, families, and communities.
The study concludes by discussing recommended changes within all levels of an ecological system to foster resilience with women leaders in Early Childhood. Suggestions for additional research are outlined to explore the resilient reintegration process with this interdisciplinary profession.
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