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Effects Of Childcare

Much research has been done on the positive and negative effects that extensive hours of childcare may have on children. When mothers began entering the labor force in large numbers in the 1960s, experts in child development expressed concern about the effect of mothers' absences on the emotional relationship between children and parents. Attachment, the emotional bond that begins early in life, is considered to have a critical influence on a child's social, emotional, and cognitive development. Most experts agree that children need a stable and continuous relationship with a sensitive and responsive caregiver in order to develop a secure emotional attachment.

Concern that this bond would be weakened when the child attended day care grew from previous studies of short- and long-term parent-child separations during war time and hospitalizations. Some researchers are concerned that children with extensive nonparental care in their first year of life may be negatively affected by the quality of the care (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000). Other research has examined the effect of day care on children's social development. Children enrolled in childcare typically have more experience interacting with peers than children raised at home, creating both positive and negative results. These children typically show greater independence, self-confidence, and social adeptness, but they may also show evidence of greater aggression and noncompliance to adult requests (Booth 1992). The cultural context of childcare may have a significant influence on children. For example, research has shown significant differences in the effects of childcare on children living in the United States as compared to children living in Sweden (Lamb et al. 1992).

Initial research with childcare in high-quality university day-care centers found little evidence that day care produced damage to children. In fact, this childcare often provided important benefits for children with restricted home environments. Current research suggests that the quality of childcare is a critical factor determining how children are influenced by childcare.

The long-term impact of extended early intervention programs on children's success in school and life is now being documented in the United States through longitudinal studies (Schweinhart and Weikart 1997). Data collected for thirty-three years from the Chicago Child-Parent Centers (Reynolds 2000) suggests several principles to guide early intervention programs. Preference in enrollment in such programs should be given to children with the greatest learning needs, as the effects of participation are greatest for children living in the highest poverty neighborhoods. Both early intervention and extensive participation in a program appear to be important in influencing children's development. Comprehensive programs that focus on the "whole child" and assist families in meeting health and nutritional needs are important components, as is active parent involvement in the program. Small class sizes, low teacher-child ratios, and a language-based curriculum are critical components of an effective program as is continual training for program staff. Continuing research and evaluation are vital components for program improvement.

The relationship between maternal employment and children's development is complex with many indirect linkages. Research studies have been limited in the scope of questions asked, and care must be taken in generalizing between cultures. However, mothers' employment status by itself does not appear to create a negative experience for children. To predict the effect of childcare accurately, the characteristics of the child, the child's family, the childcare program, parental employment, and the context of the society must all be considered (Prochner and Howe 2000).

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