Early Years Column

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The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is preparing to recruit subjects for a long-term study that could shed light on how day care affects infants.

The five-year, $15-million study, said to be the most extensive to date on the volatile issue, will examine the effects of day-care arrangements on some 1,200 infants from diverse backgrounds.

The "National Study of Young Children's Lives" will monitor infants at home and in child care at regular intervals from the ages of 1 month to 3 years. Factoring in home environment, family composition, birth order, age, sex, and health, it will explore day care's effects on social, emotional, and cognitive growth and family relationships.

Two studies, meanwhile, have found that many pediatricians feel day care may adversely affect infants, but that few voice their concerns to parents.

In a study presented at a meeting of pediatricians in Anaheim, Calif., last month, 77 percent of 288 physicians polled by researchers at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Medicine said they felt in-home care was best for children up to 6 months of age. And 37 percent either agreed or did not disagree that "separation anxiety" was more pronounced for children in day care.

In a survey of 1,600 pediatricians and 1,000 working mothers conducted by Working Mother magazine and the American Academy of Pediatrics, 68 percent of the physicians said full-time day care might have harmful effects on infants under 6 months.

A much larger share of male doctors--77 percent, compared with 50 percent of the female doctors--held that view. Doctors under age 40 were less concerned about day care's effects than those over 60.

The overall percentages of physicians believing full-time day care may be harmful fell to 61 percent when they were asked about infants between 6 months and 12 months, and to 52 percent for children ages 1 to 3.

Despite such concerns, both surveys indicated doctors do not dwell on day-care issues.

Ninety-five percent of mothers in the Working Mother-a.a.p. study said their doctors did not "make them feel guilty about working."

In the Thomas Jefferson study, 39 percent of the doctors said they felt uncomfortable discussing day care; 85 percent said their training in that area was inadequate.

The Thomas Jefferson University researcher Barbara S. Wirth urged more formal training for doctors on day-care issues. And Antoinette Eaton, vice president of the a.a.p., said pediatricians could be mothers' ''best allies" by working for state and federal child-care and parental-leave policies.

Six Denver elementary schools next fall will be fashioned into family-resource centers offering health, social, educational, and recreational services.

Besides regular instruction, the centers, announced by the mayor and deputy school superintendent last month, will remain open from early morning until night for tutoring, counseling, recreation, and other services provided in concert with city agencies and community groups. They will also coordinate such services as health, prenatal, and child care; drug-abuse prevention; parenting and literacy classes; and job counseling.

Local committees for each site will decide which services to offer and whether to base providers in the school or elsewhere.

The project's goal, officials say, is to support families while removing noneducational barriers to learning for children.

Businesses and foundations are contributing funds to support the $300,000-a-year project.

Children deemed at risk of failing 1st grade scored significantly higher on standardized tests after attending preschool for three years than did those attending for shorter periods, a recent study shows.

In a study of 4,539 3- to 5-year-olds, Dominic F. Gullo, an early-childhood-education professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, compared Metropolitan Readiness Test scores of at-risk children who had one, two, or three years of schooling before 1st grade with those of children not at risk.

While the mean composite score for at-risk children was significantly lower than that of their peers not at risk, differences between the two groups were negligible for at-risk children with three years of preschool. The disparities were pronounced for those with fewer years of preschool.

The composite mean scores of at-risk boys and girls did not differ substantially. But the girls not at risk scored significantly higher than the boys in that group--a finding Mr. Gullo said was consistent with studies suggesting that the predominance of women in early-childhood education favors girls.

The University of Minnesota has established two professorships to study the impact of poverty and neglect on child development.

Professors Byron Egeland and Alan Sroufe of the college of education have been tapped for the positions to conduct research on the consequences of neglect, maltreatment, and failures of early care-giving relationships.

Irving B. Harris, the philanthropist who launched the "Beethoven Project," a center for parenting education, child-development, and health services in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes, is contributing $500,000 for the endowed chairs. The University of Minnesota is matching that grant.--dc

Vol. 09, Issue 39

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