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Quality day-care and social growth.

Quality day-care and social growth

When day breaks, more than half of allU.S. mothers with infants are off to work and must place their children in some form of nonmaternal care. By 1995, as many as two-thirds of all preschool youngsters in the United States will have working mothers, according to organizations involved in child-care services.

Yet carefully controlled research onthe social development of children in nonmaternal care is in its infancy. Contrasting perspectives on the effects of child care are offered by two new studies that reflect an ongoing debate among child development researchers. One indicates that the quality of a day-care program is of key importance to children's social growth, perhaps even more than their family background. The other study, however, suggests that even if the care is in the child's own home, daily separations during the first year of life are a "risk factor' for the development of a disturbed mother-infant relationship.

The former study, conducted by psychologistDeborah Phillips of Yale University and her colleagues, finds that children fare better in programs in which children and adult caregivers frequently engage in conversation. High levels of verbal interaction with other children appear to interfere with social development, report the investigators in the July DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY.

In centers with higher amounts ofadult-child conversation, parents and caregivers alike rated the children as more considerate; caregivers also rated them as more sociable, intelligent and able to concentrate on specific tasks. Centers rated higher on overall quality-- as measured by observations of the day-care environment, verbal interactions between adults and children and interviews with program directors--were similarly associated with better social development. The researchers statistically controlled for the effects of the childrens' age, family background and length of day-care attendance.

The sample consisted of 166 childrenattending one of nine day-care centers in Bermuda, where about 85 percent of the children spend most of their day in some form of nonmaternal care by 2 years of age. The centers vary widely in quality and consist of eight private programs and one government-run facility serving predominantly low-income families.

The children were 3 years of age orolder at the time of the study, and their average age of entry into day-care was 19 months.

The data, says Phillips, suggest thatspecific features of child-care programs, such as staff-child ratios and staff training, can be regulated to promote positive interactions among caregivers and children. Day-care quality in the United States is regulated at the state level, observe the researchers, where the emphasis is on minimum standards for health and safety rather than guidelines to promote social development.

But a note of caution on early child careis sounded by psychiatrist Peter Barglow of Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago and his colleagues. They studied 110 infants of affluent parents; half of the children were cared for full-time by the mother, and half had in-home day-care provided by someone other than the mother because both parents worked full-time. Substitute care began at 8 months of age or earlier.

At 12 to 13 months of age, infants werevideotaped during a laboratory exercise in which the mother leaves her baby with an experimenter for several short separations. Infant behavior on being reunited with the mother was scored by a researcher unaware of the mother's work status.

There was an increased incidence of"avoident attachment' among first-born infants of working mothers, report the researchers in the August CHILD DEVELOPMENT. This is marked by ignoring the mother's return, turning away from her and refusing to communicate with her. Many infants of working mothers may experience repeated, daily separations from the mother as rejection by her, suggest the scientists, leading to avoidance in the laboratory situation.

But they add that many importantquestions remain unanswered. For instance, why were first-born infants most susceptible to maternal absences, and why did half the substitute-care infants show secure attachment to their mothers? Also, it is not known whether infants form secure attachments to nonmaternal caregivers. Clarification of these issues hinges on studies of larger samples and long-term follow-ups of securely and insecurely attached infants, says Barglow.
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Title Annotation:research on social development of children in day-care
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 25, 1987
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