The latest report from the long-running U.S. National Institutes of Health study about the affect of daycare on kids is sure to add fuel to the so-called Mommy Wars.
Depending on how you spin it, the study, which was published in the journal Child Development, is either good news or bad news for working parents with kids in daycare.
Reuters emphasizes the upside of daycare: children in high-quality childcare scored slightly higher on measures of academic and cognitive achievement years later as teenagers.
But the Los Angeles Times highlights the fact that at age 15, the kids who spent long hours in day care as preschoolers are more impulsive and more prone to take risks than teens whose toddler years were spent largely at home.
Kids who attended high-quality childcare scored 5.3 points higher on a standardized test, while those in average-quality childcare scored 2.6 points higher, compared to kids in low-quality care.
The children studied spent an average of 16 hours a week in day care. For every additional 10 hours in day care, the kids scored almost 1 point higher on a 5-point scale of impulsive behavior, with higher scores indicting more impulsivity, the study showed.
The truth is that the differences between the two sets of kids’ results were modest. The quality of the care is what matters most, as well as the number of hours kids are in daycare a week.
Researchers from the same study were previously lambasted by working parents when they reported a link between the amount of time a child spent in day care and an increase in aggressive and disobedient behavior throughout elementary school. Parents are growing weary of hearing conflicting reports about the impact of daycare on their kids.
The study began in 1991 when Deborah Lowe Vandell of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues began tracking 1,364 children who were 1 month old.
The researchers measured the quality, hours and type of daycare, collected results of standardized tests and interviewed the teens, their families and their schools.
Vandell’s team reported that more than 40 percent of the children were given high-quality care and 90 percent spent at least some time in the care of someone other than a parent before age 4.
Rresearchers acknowledge that their study has limitations. The parents of the kids in the study selected their own childcare arrangements, so factors other than day care quality might have affected children’s behavior and tests scores. The best way to prove that day care is responsible for children’s later achievement or behavior problems would be to randomly assign kids to one program or another, according to USA Today.
The NIH‘s James Griffin notes that earlier results from the study indicate that parents have “far more influence” on children’s development than childcare.
Approximately 2.3 million children under age 5 go to day-care centers — about a quarter of preschoolers with mothers working outside the home, according to the U.S. Census. About 17% of kids under age 5 are cared for by a nonrelative in family day-care settings and other less formal arrangements.
“The world has changed so much since 1991, when there was really a debate over whether women should or shouldn’t work,” said Ellen Galinsky, author of “Mind in the Making” and president of the Families and Work Institute in New York. “But that debate, particularly in a recession, isn’t very loud anymore. Women are bringing in 44% of their families’ income, and in recent years, that’s saved many from going under.”
Do your kids go to daycare? How do you feel about the results of the study?