Quality Child Care Matters
Mother’s have quite the dilemma when deciding when and if to return to work after giving birth to a child. Sometimes the choice is made for them due to financial reasons and sometimes they have the luxury of deciding on which is the best scenario for themselves and their families. In trying to make this decision, mothers may wonder if and how their absence and the choice of child care will affect their child. In all the years I have spend in early childhood education and child care, I think I have probably seen all of the “scenarios” and know that there is no one right answer.
Each situation is different and there are so many variables, even within each variable, but the evidence is so vast that there are certainly findings to please almost everyone (Belsky, 2009, p. 1). In my research on this delicate topic, I have come to the conclusion that the only two factors that can predict positive outcomes for children’s later development is the combination of child care quality and healthy family attachments and support. As you will see, there are so many variables and each plays into the other, but safe and secure relationships at home and in child care are the winning factors in this decades long debate.
There are two well-known pieces of data that have been gathered which researchers have utilized throughout the years to study the effects of maternal employment on later development. The first was conducted by the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) and began in 1979. The NLSY79 is a nationally representative sample of 12, 686 young men and women who were 12-22 years old when they were first surveyed in 1979. These individuals were interviewed annually through 1994 and are currently interviewed on a biennial basis” (US Dept. f Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www. bls. gov/nls/y79summary. htm, para. 1). In 1986, the NLSY79 was used as “a separate survey of all children born to NLSY79 female respondents” to conduct more child-specific information” (US Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www. bls. gov/nls/nlsy79ch. htm, para. 8). Researchers such as Jay Belsky (1988) first utilized the NLSY79 data to study the effects of early and extensive maternal employment. Belsky, etc al. oncluded “that children who had initiated care for 30 or more hours per week in their first year and whose care at this level continued through their preschool years evinced poorer academic and social functioning than did children whose full-time care began sometime later – and that this was true whether one looked at teacher reports, parent reports, peer reports, or the children’s own self-reports” (Belsky & Eggebeen, 1991, p. 1084). There were some problems with this early research and the data that was used to interpret outcomes.
One of the problems was that the two groups studied (maternal employment and non-maternal employment) were too different in so many ways. “One of the most difficult methodological issues in studying this causal process is the fact that there are substantial differences between women who work soon after their child is born and women who do not” (Hill, Waldfogel, Brooks-Gunn, & Wen-Jui, 2005, p. 834). Another problem with this wave of research was that “the effects of different features of the child-care experience, particularly the quality of the care, the amount or quality of care, and the type of care” (Belsky, Vandell, Burchinal, et al. 2007, p. 682) were not taken into account at the same time. Prior research “examined one or another feature of the child-care experience, but never all three” (Belsky, Vandell, Burchinal, et al. , 2007, p. 682). The second wave of research was based on more specific data “to examine the concurrent, long-term, and cumulative influences of variations in early child care experiences on the cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and physical development of infants and toddlers” (Friedman, NICHD, 1992, p. 1. . These researchers were interested not only in the effects of child-care, but the “endurance of effects” (Belsky, Vandell, & Burchinal, 2007, p. 682). They continued to follow up with children from 4 ? – 11 years of age. This goal of this study was “accomplished through the implementation of a study design that takes into account the complex concurrent, long-term and cumulative interactions among characteristics of the family and home, of the child care environments, and of the child” (Friedman, 1992, p. 6).
Researchers such as Jennifer Hill and Jane Waldfogel (2005) utilized the NICHD data to determine the effects of maternal employment with easier access to more varied situations. They broke up their results into four categories – Comparisons Between Worked After First Year and Never Worked, Comparisons Between Worked Part Time in the First Year and Did Not Work Until After the First Year, Comparisons Between Worked Full Time in the First Year Versus Did Not Work Until After the First Year, and Comparisons Between Worked Full Time in the First Year Versus Worked Part Time in the First Year (pp. 839-842).
These researchers concluded that “negative effects of maternal employment on children’s cognitive outcomes were found in our analyses primarily for children whose mothers were employed full time in the first year postbirth as compared with children whose mothers postponed work until after their child’s first year of life and also as compared with mothers who worked part time in the first year. Negative effects in terms of increased externalizing behavioral problems were evident in each of these comparisons involving mothers who worked full time in the first year” (Hill, Waldfogel, Brooks-Gunn, and Hann, 2005, p. 44). Although the use of the NICHD study did allow researchers to analyze the data utilizing more correlations between diverse situations, there is even later research that delves even deeper into the mixed bag of maternal work situations, family dynamics, home-life, child-care situations, etc. Heather Joshi, et al. , extended the studies even further by including events such as, “additional information concerning the types of jobs that they return to: are these jobs routinized or do they provide a degree of autonomy” (2008, p. ). Also included in these studies is the “interactions between our maternal employment measures and additional maternal characteristics and behaviors” and the “differences by gender” (Joshi, Cooksey, Verropoulou, Menaghan, & Tzavidis, 2008, p. 2). The results of these more recent studies lend “only limited support to negative effect of mother’s employment per se during infancy and the pre-school years on later child well-being” (Joshi, Cooksey, Verropoulou, Menaghan, & Tzavidis, 2008, p. ). The extent and expansion of variables for research surrounding maternal employment continues to grow. Joshi, et al. , are currently working on expanding on their set of “both maternal employment and maternal/family background variables” Joshi, Cooksey, Verropoulou, Menaghan, & Tzavidis, 2008, p. 3) which should be completed sometime in 2009 (the results for which I have not yet been able to locate). There are four questions that have motivated current research on this topic.
They have been identified as: Does extensive child care in the first year of life disrupt attachment between mother and child, what is the influence of varying types of in child care quality on children’s development, do long hours spent in child-care add to later behavior problems, and what are the effects of the types of child-care that are available? Mother-Child Attachment The earliest studies surrounding maternal employment and attachment came up with many mixed results which is one of the main reasons that the NICHD decided to begin their own study (1986). Assessment of the mother-child attachment relationship is made using various measures, including the Strange Situation” (Friedman, NICHD, 1992, p. 12). The Strange Situation was a psychological study designed by Mary D. Ainsworth which consisted “of eight episodes presented in a standardized order for all subjects” (1978, pp. 32-33) which tested the reactions of children, ages 12 – 18 months, whilst in the presence of mother only, mother-stranger, stranger only, and alone (including the return of mother during each separation from her).
According to the NICHD, “there were no significant main effects of child-care experience (quality, amount, age of entry, stability, or type of care) on attachment security or avoidance” and there were “significant main effects of maternal sensitivity and responsiveness” (NICHD, 1997, https://secc. rti. org/abstracts. cfm? abstract=9). These negative affects in attachment were also amplified when “combined with poor quality child care, more than minimal amounts of child care, or more than one care arrangement” (NICHD, 1997, https://secc. ti. org/abstracts. cfm? abstract=9). Child Care Quality The quality of the child-care of a child proves to be one of the most important factors when addressing the impact of child-care on child development. When assessing the impact of child-care quality, it is important to look at child-staff ratio, group size, and caregiver education and/or training. The quality of the interactions between caregivers and children, between peers, as well as how caregivers facilitate these interactions is also a tremendous indicator of child-care quality.
According to the NICHD, children who experience high-quality child-care have higher scores on achievement and language tests, show fewer behavioral issues and better social skills. Programs like the federally funded Head Start can also function as an intervention for children from at-risk families/situations. In 2007, Belsky conducted a study based on the NICHD findings and concluded “that quality and type of care remained associated with children’s vocabulary and problem behavior” (2007, p. 297).
In a 2002 study (also based on NICHD), researchers Hill, Waldfogel, & Brooks-Gunn concluded that children who participated in no non-maternal care and home-based, non-maternal care “would have gained the most from high quality center-based care and moreover, would have more consistently remained the bulk of these benefits overtime” (2002, p. 1). Hours Spent in Child Care Although the findings seem to be mixed, there is some evidence that the amount of hours spent in child care may be a cause for some behavior problems, namely aggressive behavior.
The NICHD researchers (Belsky, Hill), did conclude that “children with more experience in child-care centers were rated by their teachers as showing somewhat more disruptive behavior in sixth grade” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, n. d. , p. 2), but more recent research (Joshi, Cooksey, et al. ) explored “various interactions between our maternal employment measures and additional maternal characteristics and behaviors” (2008, p. 2) to be added risk factors for behavioral issues. Type of Child Care There are also mixed findings in the effects of the type of child care situation a young child experiences.
I feel rather strongly that a primary caregiver relationship is best for the young infants entering child care (whether it be in a more formal, group care setting or a private situation). Unfortunately most group child care programs do not offer a primary caregiver model which definitely contributes to the disorganization and unpredictability of the care that a child receives. With a primary care model, caregivers can “promote a stronger attachment than might happen if attachment were left to chance or if all the caregivers relate to the whole group without differentiation” (Gonzalez-Mena, 2007, p. 49).
Penelope Leach, et al. also state that “children who experience greater caregiver stability while attending early years settings have been found to have more secure relationships with their caregivers and to show higher degrees of social competence” (2008, p. 180). When child care provider implement practices that support child development (whether it be group care of private care), the results are positive. What it all seems to come down to is that the effects of maternal employment are complex and vary from family to family, child care situation to child care situation, and parental style/characteristics.
The NICHD researchers clearly suggest that “we seek to move beyond the determination of possible risks that may be presented by child care as a unitary category. Rather, we want to find out how the effects of non-maternal care vary as a function of different variables such as child care quality, the extent of its use, characteristics of the children and of their family and home” (Friedman, NICHD, 1992, p. 10). These factors combined with family income/education and child gender make for a very complicated study.
One factor seems to influence the other and there are so many variables. The one thing that does stand out in all of the research is that developmental outcomes are dependent upon the quality of child care and family dynamics. When a child is feeling supported by both his/her parents and the people that care for him/her, the outcomes are favorable. Quality child care programs support cognitive, physical, social-emotional development, but unfortunately so many families do not have access to these programs due to their lack of availability and the high cost of most quality programs.
A proof in point is that I am currently a private child care provider and due to my expertise, I am able to charge higher rates than others in my field, but only families that can afford these rates are able to hire me. The sad thing is that “a national study of 100 child care centers found that 92% of them provided inadequate care to infants” and “it was reported that two in five centers were rated less than minimal” (FSU Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy, http://www. peip. fsu. edu/resourceFiles/resourceFile_81. pdf). Keep in mind that these figures are based on child care centers with varied tuition rates in various parts of the county. Those numbers are just staggering and unacceptable, but make perfect sense when you take into account that child care providers are usually not professionally trained or minimally trained and receive very low wages. Teacher training and regulations on child care centers are getting stricter which is a good sign.
More and more mothers are returning to work and it is only cost effective that the investments we make in early child care practices will result in better adjusted and academically successful children in the years to come. References Ainsworth, M. (1978). Patterns of attachment: a psychological study of the strange situation Philadelphia: Laurence Earlbaum Associates, Inc. Belsky, J. & Eggebeen, D. (1991, January 1). Early and extensive maternal employment and young children’s socioemotional development: children of the national longitudinal survey of youth.
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Gonzalez-Mena, J. Infants, toddlers, and caregivers. Boston: McGraw-Hill. FSU Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy. (n. d. ). Research on quality child care For infants and toddlers. Retrieved August 25, 2009 from https://www. cpeip. fsu. edu. Hill, J. , Waldfogel, J. , & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2002, September 1). Different effects of high quality Care. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 21(4), 601-627. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ772831). Retrieved August 15, 2009 from ERIC database. Hill, J. , Waldfogel, J. , Brooks-Gunn, J. , & Han, W. (2005, November 1).
Maternal employment and child development: a fresh look using newer methods. Developmental Psychology, 41(6), 833-850. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ733669). Retrieved August 25, 2009. Joshi, H. , University of London, Cooksey, E. , The Ohio State University, Verropoulou, G. , University of Piraeus, Menaghan, E, The Ohio State University, & Tzavidis, N. , University of Manchester. (2008). Combining childrearing with work: do maternal employment experiences compromise child development. Retrieved August 12, 2009 from http://iussp2009. princeton. edu/download. aspx? submissionId=92322.
Leach, P. Barnes, J. , Malmberg, L. , Sylva, K. , & Stein, A. (2008, February 1). The quality of different types of child care at 10 and 18 months: a comparison between types and factors related to quality. Early Child Development and Care, 178(2), 177-209. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ782856). Retrieved August 15, 2009 from ERIC database. Motherhood-extent and effects of maternal employment. (n. d. ). Retrieved August 26, 2009 from http://family. jrank. org/pages/1187/Motherhood-Extent-Effects-Maternal- Employment. html National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.
Scientific briefs: how early child care affects later development. (2007). Retrieved August 12, 2009 from http://www. developingchild. net. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care: A comprehensive Longitudinal Study of Young Children’s Lives. (1992, June 1). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED353087). Retrieved August 15, 2009 from ERIC database. NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (1987). The effects of infant child care on infant- Mother attachment security: results of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. Child Development, 68.