Childcare Debate


Childcare Debate Essay, Research Paper

How children develop has been recognised by development psychologists as an extremely important although complex issue (Hayes, 1990). Healthy development involves and hinges on their successful progress in domains comprising of biological, cognitive and socio-emotional elements (Hayes, 1990). It remains essential in terms of the individual and society that all children be stimulated and encouraged to their optimal level. Failure to develop certain skills during the first six years of life can result in negative effects throughout the rest of life (Doherty-Derkowski, 1995) An integral part of healthy child development is the way children s needs are responded to by their caregivers. The traditional view in the western world has espoused that it is mothers who are the primary caregivers and this maternal care is critical to the child s psychological and social well being especially during infancy (Bowlby, 1969; McGurk, Caplan, Hennessy & Moss, 1993).

In Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1999) and the United States (Bureau of Census, 1994) mothers who have children at home, are returning to work in numbers greater than ever before and as a result, the demand for non-maternal care has steadily risen. As a result many infants and toddlers are now in some form of daycare arrangement. This change in cultural fabric has resulted in the emergence of an emotionally charged debate concerning the merits and effects of daycare on children s development. At one end of the continuum is the camp that suggests that daycare in the first six years of life will ultimately lead to later problems at school, delinquency and depression. The other camp suggests that early childhood care and services would enhance and promote development (Doherty, 1996).

It appears there is little evidence suggesting maternal employment and subsequent daycare has any significant detrimental effects on older children, (Belsky, 1988). However the evidence regarding infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers is far from clear (Harvey, 1999).

Belsky (1988) suggests that early extensive daycare due to maternal employment can have a negative impact on infants. He concluded that infants who were in daycare for more than 20 hours per week were at far greater risk of forming an insecure attachment by age one. However it has been suggested that Belsky did not take into account background variables, which may have confounded the findings, the sample used was non-representative and the measures for determining attachment may have lacked predictive validity (Clarke-Stewart, 1988, 1989). In another study McCartney and Galanopoulous (1988) analysed a different set of studies to Belsky but used the same Strange Situation (See appendix A) procedure to measure levels of attachment. They found no evidence to suggest that extensive daycare for infants effected their security of attachment. Other researchers claim that infants can and do become attached to their daycare providers and the quality of the infants attachment to their mother has little bearing on this attachment (Howes, Rodning, Galluzzo & Myers, 1988). These studies suggest that relationships developed at daycare could compensate for lack of insecure maternal attachments. A study by Howes (1988) indicates that infants and toddlers in high quality daycare are more likely than children in low quality care to have more secure attachments with their caregivers.

It would seem based on the available evidence from these research studies, that the link between the amount of daycare and the security of attachment between mother and child remains somewhat inconclusive. However recent hypotheses suggest that effects probably depend on a combination of factors such as the child s personality, the degree of maternal stress at home, the mother s sensitivity to the child and the quality of the daycare centre. (Clarke-Stewart, 1992; Lamb, Sternberg & Prodromidis, 1992; McGurk, Caplan, Hennessy & Moss, 1993; Thompson, 1991).

Belsky (1986) has also suggested that extensive use of daycare before age one is associated with non-compliance, a lack of cooperation with adults, increased aggressiveness and social maladjustment occurring later in preschool and early school years. Haskins (1985) suggested that the levels of heightened aggression found in their study were directly associated with daycare centres that had highly structured cognitive development programs. Children from other centres were not rated as more aggressive or more non-compliant than those children raised at home with a parent. These findings suggest that a daycare program that is heavily focussed on cognitive development is not appropriate for infant care. Rubenstein & Howes (1983) found that children who exhibited emotional problems at age three in terms of tantrums, anxiety and behavioural difficulties were the same children that at 18 months had caregivers (whether the child s mother or another caregiver) who delivered lower levels of praise and encouragement and were more restrictive. Other studies by Burchinal, Ramey, Reid & Jaccard (1995) and Hegland & Rix (1990) suggest no association between later aggression, non-compliance, and other social adjustment problems with extensive daycare during infancy. In another study infants and toddlers who had high quality daycare during infancy were found to engage in more social interactions with both peers and adults (Howes and Stewart, 1987).

A study conducted in Sweden suggests children who had infant daycare before age one were rated by their school teachers at age eight as more independent and less anxious than children who entered daycare at a later age and those who were cared for at home by their mother. (Anderson, 1989). However Vandell & Corasanati (1990) report that children who have had extensive daycare during infancy, when rated by their school teachers at age eight had poorer peer relationships and emotional well being, and were more difficult to discipline than children who were primarily cared for by their mothers. Vandell & Corasanati (1990) suggest that the reasons why their finding contrast sharply to other studies is a reflection of the poor quality daycare centres involved in the study. Other studies that have directly examined current and later behaviour and functioning of children between poor quality and high quality daycare suggest this to be the case (Goelman & Pence, 1988, Howes & Olenick, 1986). Park & Honig (1991) conducted a study to examine aggressiveness in three and four years olds that had extensive infant daycare and those that had been cared for by their mothers during infancy. They found that the children who received daycare as an infant were more aggressive than those who were cared for by their mother in infancy were.

In regards to later behavioural problems as a result of infant daycare, the results are somewhat mixed. Some, but not all of the studies, failed to find any evidence of a specific link between early infant care provided by daycare and later behavioural maladjustment. The studies that did find negative effects suggest that the quality of care delivered by the daycare centre was a determining factor for later behavioural problems. It seems that the determining factor in many of these studies is the quality of care regardless of provider.

There has been research (Melhuish, Lloyd, Martin & Mooney, 1990) indicating that the mother s education level has a direct effect on their child s language abilities. Socio-economic background has also been shown as an indicator of the range of cognitive ability (Scarr, Lande and McCartney, 1989). Other studies claim that the level and range of cognitive functioning before entry into school tends to indicate academic success in school (Ladd, 1990, Reynolds 1989). Osborn & Milbank (1987) conducted a massive longitudinal survey done on every child born in Britain in a one-week period. Out of a total of 8952 children, 5413 children were found to have experienced some form of regular daycare. After they took into account the socio-economic status of the child s family and the educational level of the mother, they found that when tested later at ages five and ten respectively, the children who had exposure to daycare programs scored above average across the surveyed sample on cognitive tests involving geometric shape recognition. This suggests that regardless of socio-economic background, all children that become involved in daycare programs could derive a direct positive effect in respect to cognitive functioning. In another study researchers reported that children who had experience in daycare programs before school, managed to score higher on a general test of cognitive ability (Gullo & Burton, 1992). The study from Sweden done by Andersson (1989) showed that children in daycare outperformed children raised at home on a range of cognitive reasoning tasks. In another study by Cochran and Gunnarsson (1985) findings showed no between group difference on measures of a standard intelligence test in children aged five and half. Another study suggests that children who are raised in family situations where there are low levels of appropriate stimulation show signs of a decrease in cognitive functioning compared to their peers in higher quality care. Starting between 18 and 24 months this decrease continues right throughout the toddler and preschool period (Lee & Ramey, 1989).

Findings from these studies suggest that daycare experience does have a positive influence on cognitive ability. It would appear that daycare speeds up the process of cognitive functioning however does not seem to have any effect on intelligence.

Results showing greater cognitive functioning in subsequent years indicates that daycare can be advantageous. Some studies reported no differences found between daycare and home care groups, however there was no control on the quality of the daycare centres taken into account.

Betsalel-Presser, Jacobs, White & Baillargeon (1989) have shown that children who have greater language skills tend to gain entry into peer groups more easily than those who have poor language skills. Once included they are then able to manage and maintain their position with greater success. Another study has shown that the child s oral language level in kindergarten makes up approximately 30-40% of later performance in reading (Biemiller & Siegel, 1991). Jacobs, Selig & White (1992) studied the language skills of both daycare and home cared groups, but found no significant difference between the groups. They did however find that children from high quality daycare centres had superior language ability to those children from poor quality daycare. In another study from Sweden, Andersson (1989) found those children s level of vocabulary in grade one was greater for children who had previous regular daycare than those did not. Both studies by Andersson and Jacobs et al appear to suggest that the quality of care is what matters to gain good child development outcomes.

The findings from all of the studies examined above indicate mixed results. However most of the studies report a positive outcome for children who attend high quality daycare prior to entering school. One study, that by Vandell and Corasanity (1990) reported negative outcomes for children attending daycare. Researchers suggest this be due to the low requirements for licensing in the State.

It seems that although many of the studies contradict and are in conflict on certain issues, they all seem to indicate that the most fundamentally important factor in children s development is the quality of care. Whether it is care by the parent or a daycare centre there seems to be consensus about the need to ensure high quality practice at all times. There must be an emphasis placed on ensuring that such care promotes, rather than hinders development. With the demand for daycare outstripping supply it is important that as a community standards

Research studies on children who are currently still in daycare that are receiving high quality care are compared to those receiving low quality care both from the same socio-economic backgrounds show that those in high quality situations:

(a) have greater levels of peer relationship skills (Phillips, McCartney & Scarr, 1987)

(b) are more cooperative to adult instruction (Howes & Olenick, 1986),

(c) are better at self-discipline (Phillips McCartney & Scarr, 1987),

(d) have better levels of language ability (Goelman & Pence, 1988),

(e) have greater levels of cognitive skills indicated by their higher levels of play (Howes, 1990)

Those studies that have compared high verse low quality daycare impacts on children s behaviours and performance at school show that those exposed to high quality daycare were:

(a) Less hostile, more cooperative, and more empathetic when in kindergarten (Howes, 1990).

(b) At age eight they tended to show greater peer and social skills and received more positive ratings from their classmates (Vandell, Henderson &Wilson, 1988),

(c) more able to accept rules and adult direction in kindergarten (Jacobs & White, 1994) and in the latter part of the year in grade one (Howes, 1988),

(d) more focussed on tasks at hand and better at resisting distraction when in kindergarten (Howes, 1990) and in grade one (Howes, 1988)

(e) more able to follow serial procedures and work independently (Howes, 1988),

(f) And perform better on comprehension and language measures in grade one (Jacobs, Selig & White, 1992).

The research studies tend to show two fundamental themes. (a) The value of group experience prior to school tends to promote language ability, relationship building and cognitive functioning (b) The significance of high quality care has been highlighted as a determining factor in achieving good child outcomes. Quality care goes beyond simply providing for the child s nourishment, health and safety. Quality care encompasses the promotion and support of the child s social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language development. Particular behaviours by caregivers have been directly associated with improved children s functioning and outcomes. These include the availability of developmentally appropriate equipment and toys, encouragement and support of child s exploring activities, small group sizes, higher staff to child ratios, initiates stimulating activities, sensitive to the child s needs, listens with respect and attention, responds quickly, tests children s skills and sets behavioural goals. Each of these behaviours is required for high quality care whether by the parent or the daycare. Poor quality daycare centres lacking this stimulation tends to mimic the homes of children who have a deprived background. Even children from a middle class home can suffer negative impacts if the daycare quality is low and attendence is full-time (Howes, 1990; Melhuish, Lloyd, Martin & Mooney, 1990). The emphasises on how important it remains to ensure that children from all socio-economic backgrounds who are in some form of non-parental care prior to school receive nothing less than high quality care.


Based on the research studies reviewed it would appear that daycare of high quality is beneficial to many infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. So long as caregivers have some understanding of child development issues, are responsive to child s needs and are not responsible for too many children, then outcomes are likely to be at least on par with home parenting and in some cases better depending on the child s home situation. In areas of social peer, language and cognitive development, classroom and academic skills, daycare may actually be more beneficial. Research however seems to be as clear in regards to the harmful effects of poor quality daycare even when children have come from a middle class socio-economic background. Development can be retarded if the caregiver, whether a parent at home or working in a centre, neglects the needs of the child, avoids giving the child individual attention because of being responsible for too many children, is authoritative and inflexible and does not or can not provide an adequate stimulating environment.

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