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The Effects Of Child Care (Day Care) On The
Social And Psychological Development Of Children

 

 

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.

  BIO

Remarks to The World Congress of Families V, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 10 August 2009

I have some credentials to speak about child are and its effects.  While I was Deputy Assistant Secretary for the US Department of Health and Human Services during the Bush I Administration I procured a major overview of the literature from a group of the top developmental psychologists.  That review for the federal government can also be found in the book “Human Attachment” by Virginia Colin, the integrator of the research for the working group.[1]  Also during that period I worked with the US National Institute for Child Health and Development team to ensure (and pay for) the insertion of marriage quality and family structure in NICHD’s longitudinal study, the Study of Early Child Care.[2] 

Later, while a Senior Fellow at The Heritage Foundation I supervised the gathering of data for the FamilyFacts.Org database and the writing of a synthesis paper by Janet Jacob, then a PhD student and now a faculty member of Brigham Young University (from which paper I have drawn extensively, today). That paper was reviewed by two of the world’s top experts on child care …Jay Belsky of the University of London and Margaret Owen, of the University of Texas at Dallas.

General Introduction:

Early infant experiences and mother-child attachment have always been prominent and foundational in developmental and clinical psychology. 

Freud held that the Mother- Child relationship is: “unique, without parallel, established unalterably for a whole lifetime as the first and strongest love-object and as the prototype of all later love-relations” [3]

For John Bowlby, the founder of modern infant attachment theory and clinical work, this relationship results in the child’s “internal working model” of human relationships by which the infant views himself as “acceptable or unacceptable” to figures which he is attached to. [4]

Stanley Greenspan, of York University Toronto now probably the world’s expert par excellence on intellectual and emotional development of children, and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Clinical Infant Developmental Program, sees the intense and extensive nurturing mother-child relationship as the foundation of, not only relational life, but also intellectual and creative life, with biological and physical health implications on into later adulthood at least.  Empirical research has confirmed their conclusions:

Belsky and Ferguson (2002) “Sensitive, responsive care enables [a child’s] confidence”  in his mother, fostering in children what the two authors have called “a positive and trusting orientation toward the mother, themselves, and the world at large.” [5]

Secure attachment generates a mind “capable of inferring things about other people’s minds, their thoughts, ideas, motivations, and intentions.” (Psychoanalyst Peter Fonagy, 2001, p. 427) Jacob 8.

This points towards “the vital importance of parent training for the normal emotional and cognitive development of a child and the prevention of major psychological disturbance” (Fonagy, 2001, p. 427)

Why Should we be concerned about non-maternal care --  Mainly because of its contribution to negative outcomes:

Non-maternal care consistently predicts “negative social behaviors throughout childhood.”  [6]

Children without maternal care for a period of time “lacked feeling, had superficial relationships, and exhibited hostile or antisocial tendencies” [7]   Without such attentive care, children develop an insecure attachment and ‘a mistrusting orientation’ to relationships and experiences, increasing the likelihood of negative social behaviors.” [8]

The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (one of the US’s premier surveys for tracking the well being of children through to adulthood) as well as its continued follow ups indicate that, “early and extensive maternal employment was associated with increased behavioral problems, less compliance and increased insecurity, and was the strongest predictor of socio-emotional functioning, exceeding both poverty and maternal education [9]

The main capacity affected by child care is “attachment security” … the child’s sense of security about his social surroundings that is mainly conveyed by the mother’s interaction with the child. 

Lack of attachment security best predicts less capacity to regulate negative feelings and distress (confirmed also by neurobiological research).[10]  And the effects can be seen even into young adulthood. Secure infants yield secure adults, insecure infants yield insecure adults.[11]

Maternal Employment and Child Care

Maternal employment is the main, if not the sole, driver of child care usage.  Early maternal employment predicted more acting out behaviors and less frustration tolerance, [12]  and be more likely nominated by peers for hitting and being mean, [13]particularly when they were from working class families. [14]

Israel and the Kibbutzim movement has made Jews more sensitive to the child care issue: One study on Jewish and another on Israeli mothers and infants found that hours and placement in group day/center care resulted in significant attachment insecurity.[15]

Effects on Social Development: the NICHD study

The NICHD Study of Early Child Care (SECC) is a comprehensive longitudinal study (birth to 15 years of age) initiated by US federal government’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in 1989 to answer the many questions about the relationship between child care experiences and children's later development. The research team is composed of the leading developmental psychologists in the US and they have worked cooperatively to design and implement the study, and in 1991, enrolled a very diverse sample of 1,364 children and their families at 10 locations across the U.S.  The study has so far tracked them through to age 15 and provides the most detailed and largest set of data on child care effects.  For this reason we turn to some of its findings to lay out the parameters of the issue of child care. 

Maternal attachment and child care results  in the NICHD study

The NICHD study found consistent, but modest associations between attachment security and measures of child positive affect and compliance, as well as mother-reported social competence and behavior. [16]

 “Mother-infant attachment at 15 months uniquely predicted child-friend interaction and exploration.”[17] And less negativity and more focus ability during mother-infant interaction at 24 months, as well as fewer behavioral problems in mother reports at 3 years of age.[18] “Insecure attachments at 36 months predicted internalizing behaviors for boys and girls, and externalizing behaviors for boys. As the authors conclude, there are clearly meaningful associations between attachment security and the behavioral problems seen by mothers as well as caregivers.” [19] And responsive and positive mothering is the significant predictor of fewer mother-reported behavior problems and more positive interactions between the mother and child.[20] And maternal sensitivity emerged as the most consistent and strongest predictor of all developmental outcomes. [21]

 But the effects of quantity of care remained significant even after adding maternal sensitivity as a predictor, and quantity of care continued to be a significantly stronger predictor than child care quality, type or stability [22]

Children can change from secure to insecure if they begin non-maternal care for 10+ hours a week during the ages of 16-36 months.[23]

Children of  a less sensitive mother have an continuously decreasing sense of security the longer they are in non-maternal care. [24]

I n contrast, the absence (or limited use) of non-parental care significantly reduced the probability of “troubled” behaviors and interactions with parents.[25]

Positive mothering was a constant predictor of less problem behavior according to mothers and caregivers.[26]

Self control / problem behaviors NICHD

The self control, aggressive and problem behaviors of children are the negative outcomes that are tracked carefully in the SECC.

There are repeated findings from different investigators that problem behaviors increased proportionately, particularly with “continuous and extensive” hours of child care.  Problem behaviors included “neediness”,[27] “assertiveness”[28], “disobedience/defiance”,[29] and “aggression”[30]

Children who spent more time in child care were more aggressive in their interactions according to their caretakers, “although increased peer aggression was not found in observer assessments” [31]

Quantity of Non-maternal child care ranked consistently among the most important predictors of reports of behavior problems across all ages-- larger in impact than the quality of parenting, maternal sensitivity and home environment.[32]

Other research has consistently found this to be the case:

  • Schwarz and colleagues over 35 years ago found that day care children were more “physically and verbally aggressive than their matched home-reared counterparts.” They also had a much higher occurrence of problem behaviors ranging from experiences of frustration and rejection to non-conforming behaviors and messiness.[33] 

  • Children in all income levels experienced more behavioral problems based on how early in their lives and how many hours per day they spent in day care, [34],[35]  even when controlling for socioeconomic status, family stress, and child gender.[36]

  • In high risk families similar results of stress and hostility hold, not only for children’s behavior  but also for mothers’.[37]

Mother – decreased sensitivity: NICHD study

When measured repeatedly during the first three years the more time the child spends in child care the more likely mothers will be less sensitive to their children, and the children in turn less engaged with these now-less- sensitive mothers.[38]  This is important because this decreased maternal sensitivity is an important factor the probability that the child will go from being secure to insecure during the first three years.[39]  Children who are the most competent at three years of age and have fewer behavior problems, greater social competence, more developed language skills and higher school readiness scores than any of the other children were those who had a history of attachment security at 15 months and continued highly-sensitive mothering.[40]  This holds for both parents, the more time and warmth from both the more attachment security for the child. [41]

Socialization NICHD study

Children with greater attachment security at 36 months, tended to have friendships characterized by less instrumental aggression than children with insecure attachment histories, particularly insecure-avoidant attachments,[42] who show greater dependency and less initiative in play,[43] and by four and a half years of age those with more years in child care were more negative in interactions with others.[44]  But  “On the whole . . . cumulative quantity of care beginning in the first six months . . . best predicted [this] lower level of social and behavioral functioning.[45]

Education NICHD study

Infants who spend more time in daycare had lower pre-academic skills at 54 mos.  Toddlers who spent more time in daycare had higher language skills at 54 mos.[46] 

First Graders cared for by their parents scored lower in math than first graders who were in “center based care.”[47] 

When day care hours increased for children between 3 and 54 mos., children later scored lower on fifth grade vocabulary.[48] 

Securely attached children had fewer behavior problems, greater social competence, more developed language skills and higher school readiness scores than any of the other children. [49]   Similar findings hold for low income children.[50]  By fifth grade children with more hours in day care scored lower in vocabulary.[51] 

First Graders cared for by their parents scored lower in math than first graders who were in “center based care.”[52]  

Conclusion:

If the above were findings from engineering journals on the quality of design and production of cars being produced by Volkswagen, Mercedes, Toyota, Honda, GM, and Ford there would be massive outcry and crackdown by governments in all the developed countries.  The regulations prohibiting the offending practices would be introduced, law suits would proliferate and tort lawyers would become rich while bureaucracies would expand.

But the highest values that drive child care are not the care of the child (though that care is highly valued) but rather it is that the mother must have no obstacle when she wants to go to work. That value may never be trumped, not even the welfare of her own child.  Thus in the EU treaties and labor regulations, in the laws in the US Congress and other developed countries, in universities around the developed world these disturbing findings --- more children at risk, risk into adulthood and likely throughout life when eventually we get around to doing that sort of longitudinal research ---  are shunted aside.  Though the greatest strides in science are made by dealing with “contrary data” in this case the contrary data is not valued, is embarrassing and like an uncoth relative at a wedding celebration, it is ignored and, as much as possible, shunted aside.

However, this data will “out”, and more and more mothers are less and less disposed to run the risk of damaging their children. 

We must spread the word, and go around the media and even academia if all of our children are to thrive.

I hope this paper helps such a change.  Thank you.

 

Endnotes:

[1] “Human Attachment” by Virginia Colin (McGraw Hill, 1996). 

[2] The NICHD Study of Early Child Care (SECC) is a comprehensive longitudinal study initiated by The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in 1989 to answer the many questions about the relationship between child care experiences and characteristics and children's developmental outcomes. After a thorough scientific review, the NICHD selected a research team located at universities across the U.S., and at the NICHD, together providing multiple perspectives on and interests in child care research. This team of researchers worked cooperatively to design and implement the study, and in 1991, enrolled a very diverse sample of children and their families at 10 locations across the U.S.

[3] Freud, 1940, as cited in Thompson, R. A. (1999). Early attachment and later development. (p. 265) In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of Attachment (pp. 265-286). New York: The Guilford Press.

[4] Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss, Vol II. Separation: Anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.

[5] " Belsky, J.& Fearon, R. M. Attachment & Human Development Vol. 4, Number 3. , 2002. Page(s) 361-387     Secure parental attachment forms the basis of a child’s ability to form relationships, “regulate emotions and resolve interpersonal conflict.” ("Differentiating among insecure mother-infant attachment classifications: A focus on child-friend interaction and exploration during solitary play at 36 months."  McElwain, Nancy L. Cox, Martha J., Burchinal, Margaret R.; and Macfie, Jenny  Attachment and Human Development Vol. 5, Number 2. June, 2003).

[6] Jenet Jacob University of Minnesota Ph.D candidate: Child Care: Effects on Children’s Socio-Emotional Development Expressed in Attachment and Social Behaviors, for The Heritage Foundation.  P. 3

[7] Robert Kobak,  The emotional dynamics of disruptions in attachment relationships by– in Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical Applications: by Jude Cassidy (Editor), Phillip R. Shaver PhD (Editor) The Guilford Press, 1999, pp 21-43

[8] Belsky, J.& Fearon, R. M. Attachment & Human Development Vol. 4, Number 3. , 2002. Page(s) 361-387

[9] Early and Extensive Maternal Employment and Young Children's Socioemotional Development: Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth  Jay Belsky and David Eggebeen   Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Nov., 1991), pp. 1083-1098

[10] Schore, A. N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

[11] Beckwith, L., Cohen, S. E. & Hamilton, C. E. (1999). Maternal sensitivity during infancy and subsequent life events relate to attachment representation at early adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 35, 693-700.

[12] in teacher ratings of behavior (Youngblade, 2003).

[13] Youngblade, L. M., (2003). Peer and teacher ratings of third- and fourth-grade children’s social behavior as a function of early maternal employment. Journal of Child Psychology  and

Psychiatry, 44(4), 477-488.

[14] Jenet Jacob University of Minnesota Ph.D candidate: Child Care: Effects on Children’s Socio-Emotional Development Expressed in Attachment and Social Behaviors, for The Heritage Foundation.  P. 37. 

[15] The authors of the second, larger, Israeli study speculated that the reason for the insecurity might be lower quality day care.  Scher  & Mayseless’ (2000) (Sagi, Burchinal, Bryant, Lee, & Ramey, 2002).

[16] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2001). Child care and family predictors of preschool attachment and stability from infancy. Developmental Psychology, 37, 847-862.

[17] "Differentiating among insecure mother-infant attachment classifications: A focus on child-friend interaction and exploration during solitary play at 36 months."  McElwain, Nancy L. Cox, Martha J., Burchinal, Margaret R.; and Macfie, Jenny  Attachment and Human Development Vol. 5, Number 2. June, 2003.

[18] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (1998). Early child care and self-control, compliance and problem behavior at twenty-four and thirty-six months. Child Development, 69, 1145-1170.

[19] "Testing a Maternal Attachment Model of Behavior Problems in Early Childhood" McCartney, Kathleen Owen, Margaret. T., Booth, Cathryn. L.; Clarke-Stewart, Alison; Vandell, Deborah L. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry Vol. 45, Number 4. , 2004. Page(s) 765-778.

[20] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (1998). Early child care and self-control, compliance, and problem behavior at twenty-four and thirty-six months. Child Development, 69, 1145-1170.

[21] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2003a). Does amount of time spent in child care predict socioemotional adjustment during the transition to kindergarten? Child Development, 74(4), 976-1005.

[22] ibid

[23] “Fifty percent of the children who entered child care between 15-35 months became insecure, compared to 34% of those who entered earlier” ----- "The Relationship between Out-of-Home Care and the Quality of Infant-Mother Attachment in an Economically Disadvantaged Population"  Vaughn, Brian E.Gove, Frederick L., and Egeland, Byron Child Development Vol. 51, Number . , 1980. Page(s) 1203-1214.

[24] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2001b). Child-care and family predictors of  preschool attachment and stability from infancy. Developmental Psychology, 37(6), 847-862

[25] "Trouble in the second year: Three questions about family interaction." Belsky, J. Woodworth, S., and Crnic, K. Child Development Vol. 67, Number . , 1996. Page(s) 556-578.

[26] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (1998a). Early child care and self-control, compliance, and problem behavior at twenty-four and thirty-six months. Child Development, 69, 1145-1170.

[27] (demands a lot of attention, demands must be met immediately, easily jealous)

[28] (bragging/boasting, argues a lot)

[29] (talks out of turn, disobedient at school, defiant-talks back to staff, disrupts school discipline)

[30] (gets into many fights, cruelty-bullying-meanness, physically attacks others, destroys things)

[31] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2001a). Child care and children’s peer nteraction at 24 and 36 months. Child Development, 72(5), 1478-1500.

[32] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2003). Does amount of time spent in child care predict socioemotional adjustment during the transition to kindergarten? Child Development, 74(4), 976-1005.

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2002): Child-Care Structure: Process: Outcome: Direct and indirect effects of child-care quality on young children’s development. Psychological Science, 33(3), 199-206.

[33] According to a lager study, 5 year old children in child care were “‘more assertive, less conforming, less impressed by punishment, less averse to dirt, and more prone to toilet lapses’ than matched counterparts in exclusive home care (Moore, 1964 cited in Belsky  & Steinberg, 1978) Expressions of frustration and rejection were also significantly more common amongst children in full-time day care than children in full or part-time family care (Lippman & Grote, 1974, cited in Belsky & Steinberg, 1978).”  Jacob 30.

[34] Loeb, Susanna et al. 2007 "How Much Is Too Much? The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children's Social and Cognitive Development"  Economics of Education Review Vol. 26, Number . , 2007.  Page(s) 52-66. Data on 7,064 children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.  http://www.familyfacts.org/findingdetail.cfm?finding=9452.  Accessed June 2009.  

[35] "Child care history and kindergarten adjustment"  Bates, J. E. Marvinney, D., Kelly, T., Dodge, K. A.; Bennett, D. S.; and Pettit, G.S. Developmental Psychology Vol. 30, Number . , 1994. Page(s) 690-700.

[36] "Child care history and kindergarten adjustment"  Bates, J. E. Marvinney, D., Kelly, T., Dodge, K. A.; Bennett, D. S.; and Pettit, G.S. Developmental Psychology Vol. 30, Number . , 1994. Page(s) 690-700.

[37] Egeland, B. & Hiester, M. (1995). The long-term consequences of day-care and mother-infant attachment. Child Development, 66, 474-485.

[38] The NICHD Early Child Care Research Network also found that increase in non-maternal care over the child’s first three years at least slightly decreased maternal sensitivity indicating that the effects are not limited solely to the child (1999-ID# 7084)  Jacob 21-2. 

[39] "Differentiating among insecure mother-infant attachment classifications: A focus on child-friend interaction and exploration during solitary play at 36 months."  McElwain, Nancy L. Cox, Martha J., Burchinal, Margaret R.; and Macfie, Jenny  Attachment and Human Development Vol. 5, Number 2. June, 2003.

[40] "Early attachment security, subsequent maternal sensitivity, and later child development: Does continuity in development depend upon continuity of caregiving?" Belsky, J.& Fearon, R. M.Attachment & Human Development Vol. 4, Number 3. , 2002. Page(s) 361-387.

[41] "Prediction of infant-father and infant-mother attachment"  Cox, M. J. Owen, M. T., Henderson, V. K.; and Margand, N. A. Developmental Psychology Vol. 28, Number . , 1992. Page(s) 474-483.

[42] "Differentiating among insecure mother-infant attachment classifications: A focus on child-friend interaction and exploration during solitary play at 36 months."  McElwain, Nancy L. Cox, Martha J., Burchinal, Margaret R.; and Macfie, Jenny  Attachment and Human Development Vol. 5, Number 2. June, 2003. Page(s) 136-164.

[43]   ibid

[44] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2001a). Child care and children’s peer nteraction at 24 and 36 months. Child Development, 72(5), 1478-1500.

[45] In fact, the amount of child care from 3-6 months had the same predictive power as average quantity of care from 3 to 54 months (NICHD, 2003a-ID# 7018). More time in child care during the third year, also specifically predicted more caregiver-reported externalizing problems, and less caregiver-reported social competence at 54 months (NICHD, 2003b-ID# 7033; ID#-7055).  Jacob 43-4

[46] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network.  2004 "Type of child care and children's development at 54 months"  Early Childhood Research Quarterly Vol. 19, Number 2. , 2004. Page(s) 203-230. Data on 1,000 children who received nonmaternal care, studied from birth to 54 months.

[47] Hickman, Lisa N. 2006, "Who Should Care for Our Children?" Journal of Family Issues Vol. 27, Number 5. , 2006. Page(s) 652-684. Early Childhood Longitudinal Study--Kindergarten Cohort 1998-1999.  http://www.familyfacts.org/findingdetail.cfm?finding=9441 Accessed June 2009. 

[48] Belsky, Jay 2007. 

[49] Belsky, J., & Fearon, R. M. (2002). Infant-mother attachment security, contextual risk, and early development: A moderational analysis. Development & Psychopathology, 14(2), 293-310.

[50] Nelson, Dana C., Petras, Anthippy; Jolley, Sandra N.; and Barnard, Kathryn E.Infant Behavior and Development Vol. 26, Num 3., Aug 2003. Page(s) 326-344.
http://www.familyfacts.org/findingdetail.cfm?finding=7542

[51] Belsky, Jay 2007. 

[52] Hickman, Lisa N. 2006, "Who Should Care for Our Children?" Journal of Family Issues Vol. 27, Number 5. , 2006. Page(s) 652-684. Early Childhood Longitudinal Study--Kindergarten Cohort 1998-1999.  http://www.familyfacts.org/findingdetail.cfm?finding=9441 Accessed June 2009. 

 

 

 

 

 

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