March 26, 2007

Now That's A Fire! NIH Study Throws PR Match On Lighter Fluid-Soaked Childcare BBQ

Seriously, Society for Research In Child Development, is there a panel discussion at your Biennial Meeting--which just happens to kick off this week--about the effects on childcare attitudes and policies of issuing press releases for an ongoing, 16-year study that you just know are going to result in thousands of headlines like, "Child Care Linked to Bad Behavior"?

The latest results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development were released by the SRCD today, in advance of their publication in Child Development later this week. The study has been tracking over 1,000 families since 1991 to measure the effects of various forms of childcare, parenting styles, and family situations on development and behavior.

It's an important study, but in the media coverage I've seen and heard today, it's been almost completely stripped of context and background. The result: childcare generally and day care in particular come off terribly, and parents who use childcare regularly--oh, about 81% of us by the time the kids are four and a half--come home feeling like crap.

Before quitting your job, firing the nanny, and storming the ramparts over the study's definition of father care as childcare instead of parenting, why not take a look at some key elements of the study that didn't get much play in today's SRCD-driven hypestorm?

[You can follow along by reading the NICHD's 2006 summary of the study's findings up to age 4.5, or when kids started school. It's a non-jargony 52-page pdf.]

nichd_hours_childcare.jpg

  • Most kids get childcare by age 4.5 And by most, I mean, 64% of 1yo's, 71% of 2yo's, and 81% of 3yo's, get 10+ hours of childcare per week.

  • Whatever the impact of childcare, it's dwarfed by the impact of family situation and parenting style. The link between behavior and development/cognition and family features [e.g., routines, books, playthings, outings] and parenting style [e.g., mom-child interactions, positive responses, etc.] was 2-3x stronger than the link to childcare. Development's also strongly linked to parental education and family income.

  • Whatever the deal with dads being considered childcare providers, they're the most consistent providers until school-age. Several people have pointed out that it's lame of the researchers to classify dadcare as The Other, childcare, in the study. Here's how they describe the study's 1991 design in 2006:
    When the Study began, the researchers did not all agree about which arrangements to include in the term "child care." Some felt that care by the father on a regular basis should be considered "child care" because that situation differed from one in which the mother had full-time care responsibility. Others argued that "child care" should include only care by people other than the parents.

    Ultimately, the researchers decided to study all child care provided by someone other than the mother on a regualr basis...

    nichd_child_care_type_dads.jpg
    I can see their point, but only to the extent that I could imagine how, in 1991, the idea of a dad as a primary caregiver on par with a mom would be considered outside the norm. And if you're designing a study, you want to identify and account for as many variables as you can and not muddy up your sample pool.

    Still, it's interesting to see dads are the only group of carers whose involvement stays steady throughout all three pre-school phases [see above]. It's also worth noting that in 1991, in 13% of the study's 1,300 starting families, dads were providing 10+ hours/week of childcare.


    SRCD Press Release: Center-based Care Yields More Behavior Problems; In Other Types Of Care, Problems Short-lived [sciencedaily.com]
    The NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD): Findings for Children up to Age 4 1/2 Years [nih.gov]

  • 1 Comment

    As a child development major I think I can pretty much sum this all up for everyone in just a few short words. Bad child care leads to bad behavior. Period.

    It doesn't matter where the care is coming from (the parents, family members, daycare, or a cardboard box) If the care isn't good it tends to lead to behavioral problems.

    Now on the other hand, I've seen children who go to amazing daycares or stay home all day with amazing parents and they are still horribly behaved... even I can't explain that one!

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