Kelly Hart Meehan, Ph.D. is a 2022 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Kelly Hart Meehan at her Dissertation Defense.

From L-R: Dr. Elizabeth Holloway, Committee Chair, Dr. Harriet L. Schwartz, Committee Member, Dr. Rachel Gooze, Committee Member.

Dissertation Committee

  • Elizabeth Holloway, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Harriet L. Schwartz, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Rachel Gooze, Ph.D., Committee Member


early education and care, family child care, home-based care, job satisfaction, psychosocial well-being, professional identity, caregiving, professionalism, intentional practice, vulnerable children and families, relational practice, authentic caring, love, leadership, program quality, grounded theory, feminist grounded theory

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Children benefit from engagement in early education and care (ECE) programs that support their learning and development while also providing a point of connection to critical resources for their families. For children from economically disadvantaged families, the lack of access to high-quality ECE results in a persistent achievement and opportunity gap (García & Weiss, 2015). A significant portion of ECE occurs in home-based early learning environments, also known as family child care (FCC) programs, which play a critical role in supporting children from low-income and immigrant families (Layzer et al., 2007; Porter et al., 2010). Unfortunately, this sector of ECE has seen declining numbers of licensed caregivers over the past decade, due to increased regulatory requirements, low pay, competing commitments, low professional status, and working conditions involving long days in isolation from colleagues or peers (NSECE Project Team, 2016; Tuominen, 2003; Stitou et al., 2018). Using grounded theory methodology, this study explored the lived experience of successful FCC educators, examining the impact of professional identity, intentionality of practice, and management of competing demands on educators’ efficacy, psychosocial well-being, and job satisfaction. The stories shared by educators in this study underscore the value of maintaining and supporting this sector of the ECE ecosystem. The findings provide a deeper understanding of the conditions and social processes that allow FCC educators to be effective and thrive in their work. This insight is the key to retaining high-quality programs, recruiting new professionals into the field, and developing strategies to support and strengthen FCC programs that serve young children and their families. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA ( and OhioLINK ETD Center (


Kelly Hart Meehan

ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0002-7653-9462

Kelly Hart Meehan is an experienced educational leader who is passionate about high-quality early education and care. She currently serves as the Regional Director for the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, providing support for up to 2,000 early education programs serving 40,000 children. Prior to this, Kelly taught undergraduate students at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Wheelock College on topics of moral/ethical development, educational leadership, strengthening families, cultural competence, conflict resolution, and responsive communication. Throughout her career, Kelly has worked in a wide range of programs including center-based and family child care settings. She has coached and mentored educational leaders in the Boston area to facilitate the development and implementation of quality improvement action plans that enabled programs to achieve accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Kelly earned a Master’s in Education from Antioch University New England, a Master of Arts, and a PhD in Leadership in Change from Antioch University, Yellow Springs, OH. Her research interests include authentic caring in family child care, positive professional identity, educator well-being, and the transformational power of relational practice.