Quality, not quantity, of child care is what impacts children

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URBANA, Ill. – Recent research reports linking child care with child aggression highlight just one unsubstantiated negative finding amid several positive findings about quality care, according to University of Illinois child development researchers.

Researchers affiliated with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development organization met recently to review new findings in a 10-year study of more than 1,300 children.

Before the results could be substantiated and debated, the findings were released that 17 percent of children who spent more than 30 hours a week in child care were rated as aggressive.

“There is no consensus on what this really means,” said Brent McBride, U of I associate professor of human development, who was present at the conference.

“Scholarly debate would have made some sense of the findings, but the information was played out in the public arena instead.”

Don’t panic.

Working parents need not be alarmed by the statistics presented, since the aggressive behavior fell within a normal range for the age group studied, McBride said.

Also, in any population of 4-year-olds studied, whether in child care or not, the findings would likely be the same.

“The guilt that parents are feeling as a result of this study is not warranted,” he said.

The 1999 report showed that poor quality child care is a predictor for aggressive behavior, according to Dawn Ramsburg, U of I research coordinator with the Child Care Resource Service.

Intellectual skills.

The latest findings did show that children’s intellectual and language skills were higher in quality care environments. These results were not widely circulated, however.

Specifically, staff-child ratios and provider training are linked to children’s intellectual development.

For parents, these findings reinforce the importance of doing their homework when selecting child care, Ramsburg said.

“The Child Care Resource Service can provide checklists on what to look for in finding quality care, but parents need to establish their own priorities as well,” she said.

Fit to your situation.

“Individual child care providers are rarely either good or bad in providing quality care. The best quality child care is the situation that fits in with the family’s needs and priorities.”

Studies have also shown that how mothers feel about the child care situation and the mother/child interaction plays an important role in outcomes.

For example, children may suffer if a mother is working and would rather stay home with her children, or if a mother is at home with the kids and would prefer to be at work.

Contrary to the latest reports from the national study, it is the quality of child care and how the parents feel about their child care situation, not the quantity, that counts.

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