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Is day care good or bad for children? Or is this too simple a way of putting it?

Answer: YES

(see more explicit answer below   )

1. Short-Term Effects of Child Care

The child care research literature presents no consistent evidence that child care per se is harmful to child development, regardless of the age at which a child begins out-of-home care. It does,however, indicate that variations in the quality of child care are important determinants of the impact of child care. Higher quality child care is associated with better cognitive and social development both while children are in child care and during their first few years of school.

In no particular order whatsoever
  1.  Lower child:teacher ratios are better. The early studies of child care were done in Head Start and child care centers generally examined programs which had seven or fewer children per teacher or caregiver. Few programs today have ratios that good. )-:
  2.  Research indicates that putting your child into HIGH QUALITY child care has no negative effects and may even have some positive effects. The most frequently noted positive effect is better socialization, especially, better ability to interact with other children.
  3.  Most parents cannot afford child care of the kind of quality which was used for these research studies. In assessing effects of day care, many model programs were staffed by teachers with at least a bachelor's degree, if not a masters, had low child:teacher ratios, low staff turnover and a research and theory-based developmentally appropriate curriculum with adequate materials.
  4.  In contrast, most daycare providers have less than a college education, and day care centers have extremely high turnover, as a rule.
  5.  The research which did find negative effects of day care, primarily done by Jay Belsky and his colleagues, suggested that day care may have negative effects on attachment (return to the page on infant social development if you need a refresher on what attachment is all about). These negative effects were noted when the mothers returned to work full time before the child was one year old. So, even the negatives were quite qualified, in that day care MAY have an effect on attachment IF the mother works full-time AND IF the child is very young.
  6. It is also true, however, that disadvantaged children seem to benefit the most from preschool programs such as Head Start. Children who attend Head Start are less likely to fail a grade in school and less likely to be placed in special education. For middle class children, the long-term benefits of Head Start are small or non-existent. It has been suggested that this is because Head Start provides experiences such as story hour, play with toys which teach shape, color and number, songs which teach number and patterns, etc. Middle class children usually get these experiences at home, while many disadvantaged children do not.

So, in general, good preschool programs which children begin in early childhood (NOT infancy) seem to have no negative effect and may even have a positive effect. It is less clear what effect the average program, with high turnover and relatively undertrained (and underpaid) staff has on children. I rather suspect that limited research is done in that area because we may not want to know what we would find out, and that we, as a nation, do not have the will to devote the resources necessary to our children to give them all, or even the majority, a very good preschool experience. That is just my personal opinion.

For guidelines on selecting a good preschool program, refer to page 253 in your textbook.

For the OTHER major factor in social development (that is, parents) click here.

To go back to the home page, click here.

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