Quality of Child Care in Early Years Has Long-Lasting Impact
The quality of children’s care in the first few years of life can have a small but long-lasting impact on the child’s learning and behavior, according to a new federally-funded study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The study tracked more than 1,300 children since 1991 in Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. The children were from various ethnicities, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Data collected included information about the type of care received – whether the custodian was a parent, relative, nanny, or day-care setting – and the number of hours in child care.
Quality was assessed based on observations that included caregiver’s warmth, sensitivity, emotional support, and how much cognitive stimulation they provided.
They found that obedience and academic problems among those who received low-quality health care in the first 4 ½ years of life persisted even through the child’s 15th birthday. The kids who received high-quality care scored better on tests measuring math, reading, and other cognitive skills throughout elementary school. Those with high-quality care also engaged in fewer problem behaviors as teenagers, such as arguing, being mean to others and getting into fights.
Longer hours in child care did appear to have an effect. Those who spent more hours in care of any kind were more likely to engage in impulsive and risky behaviors.
Although the difference was small, the long-lasting effects surprised the researchers. "The fact that you have this persistent association is pretty remarkable," said James A. Griffin of the NICHHD. The researchers had speculated that the negative effects of lower-quality care would disappear over the childhood experience as they were influenced by new peers and teachers in public schools.
The researchers plan to continue to follow the children into adulthood. "The likelihood is these can affect children throughout their lives, and not just low-income children," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research center.
National statistics indicate that more than 80% of kids spend some time in day care by age 4, according to Albert Wat, research director of Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the states.