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Mothers Lead List in Caregiver Time, Study Says

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American 4-year-olds spend more time with their mothers than with any other caregivers, and they also spend more time with their mothers than do 4-year-olds in many other countries, a new study shows.

Fathers in the United States and other countries studied spend very little time with their children, the study shows. It also found that parents who use child-care providers generally are satisfied with them.

The study, to be released this week, is based on an 11-country survey sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. The I.E.A., a nonprofit group involving more than 60 countries, has been doing cross-national education studies for 30 years.

The High/Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Mich., which is best known for its work on the long-term impact of good preschool programs, coordinated the study.

While the book that contains the study results does not make policy recommendations, experts said it can help inform the debate in this country on family issues such as welfare.

The finding that young children in the United States still spend a good deal of time in their mothers' care, for example, may be relevant to welfare reformers who want to move large numbers of mothers into work programs.

"If we have these kinds of changes in law, it is going to clearly change the amount of time mothers spend with their families," said David P. Weikart, the president of High/Scope. Mr. Weikart co-edited the book with Patricia P. Olmsted.

And Gordon Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the U.S. representative for the I.E.A. study, suggested that the multi-country comparisons can help guide those involved in setting internationally competitive education standards and exploring ways to insure that children enter school ready to learn.

Time With Fathers Lacking

The I.E.A. study, which is part of a preprimary project launched in 1984, is the first major effort to use consistent data-gathering methods in comparing children's early-childhood experiences in several countries, experts said.

An earlier report explored government policies and documents to profile how nations serve young children. The new book is based on extensive surveys of parents by international research teams. The researchers surveyed families of 4-year-olds in Belgium, China, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, Spain, Thailand, and the United States. The U.S. sample included 432 children.

Because more mothers are working outside the home, children in many countries are spending more time in child-care settings than they once did, the book notes. In the United States, 61 percent of the 4-year-olds in the sample spent some time with outside care providers. But, on average, they still spent 12.3 of 16 waking hours a day with their parents, about the same percentage of time as children in Germany but more than those in the other countries studied.

The 4-year-olds in the countries studied on average spent at least five of their waking hours under their mothers' supervision and less than an hour under the supervision of fathers. The U.S. youngsters spent about 11 waking hours a day in their mothers' care, one hour with both parents, and 42 minutes in their fathers' care.

"I thought we'd find enormous differences in countries, with the U.S. leading the way in fathers becoming more involved," said Mr. Weikart. But, he said, the study showed that "in spite of the rhetoric about equality and role sharing in the Western countries, child care is still very much the responsibility of mothers."

While some parents--most notably in China--complained of a lack of access to programs, the study showed that those electing to keep their children at home "overwhelmingly" cited reasons such as wanting to be more involved with their children. In the United States, only 10 percent of those who did not use outside providers said they could not find adequate programs.

Confidence in Caregivers

When parents place their children in child-care centers or preschools, Mr. Weikart noted, their responses suggest that "they do so with confidence in the care their children are receiving."

While experts in the field often decry the quality of early-childhood services, 93 percent to 100 percent of the parents who used outside providers said they were very satisified or somewhat satisfied with the care children were receiving.

Less than 1 percent of the parents reported a specific service-related problem.

The survey was not designed, however, to look closely at groups of parents who may be more likely to experience child-care problems, the authors caution.

They also say parents' overall satisfaction "does not mean that from a professional point of view, there is no room for improvement."

The perspectives of parents and specialists differ because the specialists "are more keenly aware of the full range of possible program features than parents are," Lilian Katz, an early-childhood expert, said in a commentary included in the report.

A second phase of the I.E.A. project, which is now under way and involves observational studies, is expected to more closely examine program quality.

Other Findings

The study also shows that:

  • Most children receiving care from adults other than parents are served in only one outside setting. Belgium and Germany reported the largest numbers of children enrolled in at least two, and up to four, settings.
  • In all of the countries except Portugal and Thailand, relatives other than parents provide very little of the supervision that children receive.
  • Four-year-olds in China typically spend almost three hours a day with no supervision.
  • The child-care programs used in all the countries are sponsored primarily by governmental or religious organizations.
  • Relatively few group settings offer comprehensive services such as health care, special education, social services, and transportation.

Health services, where offered, are the most-often-used services, but parents' responses suggest that others are not used extensively.

Although the study does not rank countries on their programs, Mr. Ambach said it promotes a better understanding of how other nations "build different characteristics of their tradition into their early-childhood programs."

One of the most valuable features of the study for teachers, he and others said, is a set of videotapes that shows the programs, facilities, and teaching styles used in several countries.

The videotapes also help illustrate the kinds of resources available in different countries and the wide variety in classroom conduct by teachers and children, Mr. Weikart said.

Videotapes for individual countries are $59.95 each, and a 15-country set, "Sights and Sounds of Children," is available for $695 from the High/Scope Press, 600 North River St., Ypsilanti, Mich. 48198-2898; (800) 40-PRESS.

Copies of the book, Families Speak: Early Childhood Care and Education in 11 Countries, are $29.95 each and are available from the High/Scope Press at the same address and telephone number.

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