Quality of day care affects child developmentApril 4, 1997
Web posted at: 12:33 p.m. EST (1733 GMT)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Children are smarter, speak better and have more fun with their working mothers if they are talked to and intellectually stimulated while staying at a day-care center, a new study shows.
The study attempted to shift the focus of the long-running debate away from whether day care itself is good or bad and look instead at the quality of that care.
But it also concluded that the more time children spend away from a parent, the less sensitive and affectionate the two are toward each other.
"Being in child care doesn't put children at a disadvantage," Sarah Friedman, a researcher at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) said Friday.
But for children who are in day care, she said in a live interview on CNN, the quality of day care is a critical factor in determining how well children learn and communicate, as well as get along with their working mothers.
In quality settings, caregivers spoke to the children, answered their questions and responded to them as they spoke. In such cases, the children did well in acquiring language and cognitive skills that are "the bedrock of school readiness," Friedman said.
Researchers at 14 universities analyzed 1,300 families to determine the effect on children of leaving them in day-care centers from the age of 1 month through 7 years.
"The most striking aspect of these results from the early child care study is that children are not being placed at a disadvantage in terms of cognitive development if they have high-quality day care in their first three years," said NICHD director, Dr. Duane Alexander.
The NICHD, one of the National Institutes of Health, sponsored the study.
The research also found that the development of a parental bond with a child in day care was more difficult over time. The longer the child spent in day care, the less sensitive parents were toward their infants.
From the child's point of view, a longer time in day care resulted in the less affection toward the mother.
But "those were not overwhelming findings, in terms of the size of the effect," Friedman said.
The interaction between mother and child was evaluated by videotaping the test subjects during play and by observing the mother's attention toward the child during the interview with researchers.
How child care affects the young has been of concern to social scientists because about 50 percent of all U.S. women with children under 1 year of age now work outside the home.
This means that about half of young American children spend time in the care of a non-parent for at least part of most work days.
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