New study: negative effects of day care on children not caused by quality of day care

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
Mom is staying home because Dad can afford to let her: do kids benefit?

New study using National Institute of Child Health and Human Development data is discussed on the Family Studies web site.

First, let’s get the two views:

Parents, policymakers, and academics interested in how day care and preschool affect child development often embrace one of two competing—and exaggerated—claims about the childrearing circumstances that are now normative in America: that of non-family care being initiated early in a child’s first year of life on a full-time or near-full-time basis and continuing, in one form or another (e.g., family day care, center care, preschool), until the start of formal schooling.

Critics of such arrangements highlight the fact that developmental risks, like increased rates of insecure attachment and elevated levels of aggressive behavior, have been found to be associated with the extensive use of non-family care in America. Advocates, in contrast, stipulate, usually without qualification, that if the quality of care is good, then children benefit; and, indeed, that it is the limited quality of care available to too many parents in the USA that is responsible for any negative effects on children that emerge in the research literature.

All right, so the big-government, anti-family people say that day care as such isn’t bad for kids, the negative effects that are observed are not caused by too much day care, but by the low quality of the day care. The conservative, pro-family, limited-government crowd thinks that quality doesn’t matter as much as quantity – too much day care is bad for kids, regardless of quality.

The study details:

[…][T]he National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) funded, to the tune of at least $150 million, the NICHD Study of Child Care and Youth Development. It recruited more than 1,000 children (along with their mothers) in 1991 from 10 different research sites, and followed them from the first month of life to age 15. Among other purposes, the NICHD Study was designed to investigate the claim that long hours of day care initiated very early in life posed risks to children’s social and emotional development; and, should this prove so, to evaluate the proposition that such negative effects would be due to the poor quality of care that children received, not the quantity of care they experienced across the first five years of life.

And the conclusion:

NICHD Study’s findings on the effects of day care proved more consistent than inconsistent with my “developmental risk” claim. And they provided virtually no support for the idea that it was poor quality care that accounted for the negative effects of “early, extensive, and continuous” care (initiated very early in life, for long hours, and continuing for many years).2 Specifically, our many research reports revealed that the more time children spent in any kind of non-familial child care, and sometimes specifically in centers, the more aggressive and disobedient they proved to be at two (but not three) and 4.5 years of age, as well as across their elementary school years; and the more impulsive they proved to be at age 15, at which age they also engaged in more “risky” behavior than children who experienced far less non-familial care across their first five years of life. Critically, despite spending millions to carefully measure the quality of care, using methods and measures developed by the proponents of the “it’s quality, stupid” view, the study never found that the quality of care accounted for these quantity-of-care effects. In other words, the problem behavior associated with early, extensive, and continuous care emerged irrespective of whether quality of care was good or bad.

Read the whole thing, and don’t feel guilty if you can’t do the best for your kids. I am sure that everyone reading this post is going to do the best they can for their kids. But for those who have not yet had kids, let this be a lesson to you about what you should be studying in school, where you should be working, how much you should borrow, how much you should spend. A stay-at-home mom is expensive. It cannot be finessed with feelings and following your heart to fun and thrills.

When it comes to children, money is important

I know there are lots of Christians around the world who read the Bible and understand that there are certain goals laid out in the Bible for Christian parents who are raising their kids. As far as I can tell, young Christians seem to think that these goals will sort themselves out all by themselves through God’s mysterious predestination, or some other such fideistic wishing. What it really boils down to is that young people want to do what they want to do, and they can sound pious about it by saying God will somehow make their crazy plan work out. Well, that’s not effective, and young Christians would never act so ineffectively in any other area of their lives – ignoring how things really work.

Look the Bible has information about the specification that God expects you to implement. Part of that spec involves requirements for your kids. If you decide that the Bible is not trying to give you a spec, you’ll fail to deliver. If you decide that you don’t need to read studies to know how the world works, you’ll fail to deliver. If you decide that following your heart is something that God rewards more than intelligent thought, you’ll fail to deliver. You cannot feelings your way out of this assignment, you’ve got to solve the problem, and that means reading the studies and making a plan that delivers results.

So, young people. If you want to do the best for your kids, you better stop doing what feels good, and start engaging in some serious self-denial and self-sacrifice. Fumbling around chasing happy philosophy bubbles to Europe through your teens, 20s and 30s is not the right way to prepare professionally and financially for kids. Your love for your future kids begins with your decision to grow up and do hard, boring things that need to be done. You won’t be able to fix the child care costs problem at the 11th hour if you follow your heart for the first 10 hours. Keep in mind what child care looks like in places like Ontario, and what your children would be learning, and who they would be learning it from. Make a plan now.

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