Be careful in choosing child care for your child. That’s the message coming out of an authoritative study being published in Child Development today. It finds that good child care can produce enduring benefits for children, but the negative impacts of poor-quality child care, by the same token, can last equally long.
The federally funded study has been tracking more than 1,300 children across the country since 1991. It finds that children who were in poor-quality child-care settings at age 4-and-a-half, regardless of whether that care was being provided in a relative’s home, a formal day-care center, or by a live-in nanny, had a slightly higher-than-average incidence of behavior problems that persisted until age 15. On the other hand, the children who had been in a high-quality child-care setting at the same age were more likely to excel in their academic studies well into their teenage years.
If this study sounds familiar, it’s because earlier reports coming out of it ignited a nationwide debate over child care outside the home. They showed that the more hours that children spent being cared for by someone other than their own mothers, the more likely they were to act out in school later on. The newest findings sidestep that issue by focusing more on quality than quantity. But they also find a link between hours spent in nonmaternal child care and a tendency toward impulsiveness and risk-taking behavior at age 15. The differences were small though and behavior problems in a small percentage of those children could be traced back all the way to the start of the study.
How did the researchers measure quality? They visited the settings and rated caregivers on things like warmth, sensitivity, emotional support and how much cognitive stimulation they provided. In other words, it wasn’t all about flash cards and Mozart.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.