NIH: Early Child Care Affects Child Development

A large, ongoing studied by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that there are links between the quality of early child care and the child’s vocabulary development. In addition, however, the study has also determined that children who spent more time in child-care centers at a young age are more likely to develop behavioral issues. The latest study report appears in the new issue of Child Development.

The study, known as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, examined more than 1,300 children to determine the effects of early child care on children’s functioning from 4½ years through the end of 6th grade. According to the authors of the latest report, which is being led by Dr. Jay Belsky of Birkbeck University in London, “The results indicated that although parenting was a stronger and more consistent predictor of children’s development than early child-care experience, higher quality care predicted higher vocabulary scores, and more exposure to center care predicted more teacher-reported externalizing problems.”

The NIH calls the study the “the largest, longest-running, and most comprehensive study of child care in the United States.” Participants in the study have been tracked since birth, beginning in 1991, although they are not necessarily considered a “representative sample” of American children.

According to the NIH, “An evaluation of the children in fifth grade showed that the children who had higher quality child care continued to show better vocabulary scores, a correlation that was seen previously from kindergarten to third grade. The researchers found that the correlation between high quality care and better vocabulary scores continued regardless of the amount of time the child had spent in child care or the type of care. The researchers wrote that this finding was consistent with other evidence indicating that children with greater early exposure to adult language were themselves more likely to score higher on measures of language development. However, child-care quality was not associated with improved reading skills after 54 months of age.”

The authors also reported that children with more experience in child-care centers (as opposed to private child care or no child care) displayed a greater frequency of “teacher-reported externalizing problem behavior,” which includes unreasonable demands for attention; argumentativeness; bragging and boasting; cruelty, bullying, or meanness to others; destructive tendencies toward others’ belongings; disobedience; lying or cheating; fighting; and screaming.

“Children who had been in center care in early childhood were more likely to score higher on teacher reports of aggression and disobedience,” notes the NIH. The authors believe this correlation may be due to a lack of training or resources with regard to many center-care providers.

Dr. James Griffin, the NICHD Science Officer for the Study, said, “These findings add to the growing body of research showing that the quality and type of child care a child experiences early in life can have a lasting impact on their development.”

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