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Infant daycare: nothing beats quality.

Children placed in high-quality daycare programs during infancy fare quite well in preschool and elementary school, three new studies suggest. However, investigators also note a stark reality facing many U.S. parents: Good daycare remains either unavailable or unaffordable.

The new reports, presented last week at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in San Francisco, enter a heated debate over the merits of daycare for infants (SN: 7/25/87, p.54). Some scientists argue that quality daycare -- including well-trained staff serving small groups of infants -- promotes social growth and emotional security. Others contend that thrusting babies into daycare of any type often disturbs the mother-child relationship.

Data collected by Tiffany Field of the University of Miami Medical School support the former position. In one study, Field examined 28 children aged 5 to 8 who had entered full-time daycare before age 2 at a University of Miami child center. The children came from two-parent, dual-career families. The center features carefully trained teachers and numerous play activities, with a maximum of 16 infants attending at any one time.

Questionnaires administered to the children and their mothers showed that youngsters in early grade school who had spent the most time in daycare had more friends, displayed greater emotional well-being and assertiveness, and engaged in less aggressive behavior toward others. More than half the children -- 19 to 28 -- now participate in public school programs for the gifted.

In a second study, Field's team examined 56 sixth graders who began fulltime daycare before age 2 in one of six high-quality centers. These 11- to 12-year-olds came from middle-class homes.

Sixth graders who had spent the most time in quality infant daycare received the highest ratings on emotional well-being, assertiveness and attractiveness by their teachers, Field says. The same children received substantially higher mathematics grades and more often entered programs for gifted students.

Similar conclusions come from a study by Alice S. Honig or Syracuse (N.Y.) University and Kyung Ja Park of Korea University in Seoul. Honig and Park questioned the teachers of 105 preschoolers aged 3 1/2 to 5. During the first three years of life, these children had received full-time daycare beginning before 9 months of age, full-time daycare beginning after 9 months of age, or no full-time daycare.

Teachers rated preschoolers with full-time infant daycare as more competent on tasks involving problem solving and abstract thinking; the longer in daycare, the higher the rating. However, experimenter observations revealed more hostility and aggressive behavior among these same children.

Honig attributes the greater aggression to poor-quality daycare, lower parental income and a preponderance of males in the group. The findings, she says, emphasize the need for extensive training and competitive salaries for teachers in infant daycare centers.

"There's a tremendous turnover of daycare teachers across the country, up to 85 percent annually at some centers," Honig notes. "But our study indicates that stable daycare teachers make a big difference later on."

"Some daycare services are improving, such as those sponsored by large businesses," says K. Alison Clarke-Stewart of the University of California, Irvine. "But in many areas, daycare is getting worse and moving toward larger, more impersonal centers."
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 24, 1991
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