THE IMPACT OF CHILD CARE
Families differ not only in their parenting but also in their childcare arrangements. In the United States, most children grow up in households in which both parents work outside the home (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000); the situation is the same in many other countries. As a result, children often stay long hours each day with babysitters or professional childcare providers; in most of these cases, the child receives less one-on-one adult time and spends more time with other children. How does this influence children’s development?
Reassuringly, research indicates that childcare centers do not harm children in any way (NICHD Early Child Research Network, 2001, 2003, 2006); in fact, high-quality childcare seems in some cases to promote the child’s social competence (Figure 14.28). This optimistic assessment, however, must be tempered with concerns about variation in the quality of the childcare. In high-quality settings, the caregivers have had some train-ing in child development and are usually warm, expressive, and responsive to the chil-dren’s needs. In these settings, there are usually no more than a half-dozen toddlers per adult caregiver. In lower-quality settings, none of these conditions are met, and the forecast is correspondingly less positive (Love et al., 2003; N. L. Marshall, 2004; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2006). One study indicated that infants enrolled in poor-quality daycare centers end up inattentive and unsociable in pre-school, compared to children who spent the same amount of time in good daycare centers (Howes, 1990). In a similar study, 4-year-olds who attended higher-quality daycare centers showed better social and emotional development at age 8 than did children who attended poorer-quality centers, even when factors such as social class and income were equated (Vandell, Henderson, & Wilson, 1988).
Even with lower-quality care, though, we may not need to sound the alarm. Whatever the quality of the childcare, the main predictor of the child’s status seems to be the quality of home life, including the par-ents’ sensitivity to the child, the parents’ health, and so on. As one recent report put it: “The primary conclusion is that parenting matters
much more than does child care”. Thus, poor-quality childcare can cause problems, but these problems are much less likely if the parents are responsive to the child’s needs. Even if the parents are relatively unresponsive, the magnitude of the childcare effects is small.