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What Do We Know About the Effects of Early Child Care?


Infants and young children in the United States today spend much of their early lives in child care, in arrangements that vary widely in type, setting, and quality. What are the effects of these child care arrangements? The NICHD Study of Early Child Care, the most comprehensive child care study conducted to date, was designed to address that complex question. More than 1,300 children were enrolled in the study in 1991 and their progress documented for a seven-year period. The major findings of the study to date include the fact that most child care programs (for children at 24 and 36 months) do not meet the recommended guidelines for aspects of care that can be regulated. In addition: (1) the number of hours children spend in child care varies by ethnicity, with white non-Hispanics averaging the fewest hours of care and black non-Hispanics the most; (2) higher quality child care is associated with more positive outcomes whereas lower quality child care is associated with more negative outcomes; (3) infants from poor families are more likely to receive relatively low quality care; (4) children from families at the lowest and highest income levels received higher quality of care than those in the middle income range; (5) families more dependent on a mother’s income placed their infants in child care at an earlier age and used more hours of care than families less dependent on a mother’s income; and (6) family and home characteristics are stronger predictors of many outcomes than are children’s experiences in child care. In addition to describing the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and its findings, this article outlines the characteristics of high quality early child care and explains why quality of care is such an important consideration.

Source: Purdue University, College of Health and Human Sciences (2015). What Do We Know About the Effects of Early Child Care?.