Putting your child in daycare might lead to disruptive behavior well into 6th grade, according to a huge study financed by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The research, being reported today as part of the federally financed Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, tracked more than 1,300 children in various arrangements, including staying home with a parent; being cared for by a nanny or a relative; or attending a large day care center. Once the subjects reached school, the study used teacher ratings of each child to assess behaviors like interrupting class, teasing and bullying.
The findings are certain to feed a long-running debate over day care, experts say.
“I have accused the study authors of doing everything they could to make this negative finding go away, but they couldn’t do it,” said Sharon Landesman Ramey, director of the Georgetown University Center on Health and Education. “They knew this would be disturbing news for parents, but at some point, if that’s what you’re finding, then you have to report it.”
The debate reached a high pitch in the late 1980s, during the so-called day care wars, when social scientists questioned whether it was better for mothers to work or stay home. Day care workers and their clients, mostly working parents, argued that it was the quality of the care that mattered, not the setting. But the new report affirms similar results from several smaller studies in the past decade suggesting that setting does matter.
“This study makes it clear that it is not just quality that matters,” said Jay Belsky, one of the study’s principal authors, who helped set off the debate in 1986 with a paper suggesting that nonparental child care could cause developmental problems. Dr. Belsky was then at Pennsylvania State University and has since moved to the University of London.
It goes without saying that the findings of this study are going to cause a lot unrest on the part of parents and inspire a lot of retrograde vitriol on the part of social conservatives. So, rather than contest the findings of this study--something that I will leave to the social scientists to do--I will assume that the findings are accurate. So the question is now what?
Many, if not most, women have to work. And, many, if not most, workplaces do not accomodate schedules of mothers or fathers, for that matter. It seems to me that the best use we could make of this finding is figuring out how to restructure the institution of work to help parents spend more quality time socializing their children. The lesson to be drawn from this study should not be to further guilt working women. It should be a clear indication that our insane work hours coupled with the prohibitions on having children in our public spaces is anti-family values.
If I come across arguments that link the results of this study to a vindication of the traditional view that women should stay home, I can only respond by asking why on earth the findings of this report don't lead to the conclusion that more and more men should stay home? Or why not conclude that both parents should be paid by the state to socialize their children until they are ready for school?
Brace yourselves mommies! Looks like another reason to feel like shit.