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Type of childcare may impact kids’ achievement

August 22, 2005

By Charnicia E. Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Working single mothers who rely
on their family, friends, or other informal child care
providers to look after their children during work hours may,
in doing so, negatively influence their child’s mental
development, new study findings suggest.

This negative effect of a mother’s reduced contact time
with her child may be offset, however, by enrolling the child
in pre-school or some other type of formal center-based care
instead, according to the study’s authors.

“I would say that the crucial thing to take from the paper
is that separation from the mother can be detrimental for
children, but mothers can partially offset this by choosing the
appropriate type of daycare,” Professor Raquel Bernal, of
Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, told Reuters
Health.

The findings were presented today during the 2005 World
Congress of the Econometric Society, hosted by the University
College London.

Due to the Welfare Reform of 1996, as well as earlier
state-level changes, single mothers were forced to increase
their work time and their use of childcare, which, according to
the researchers’ analysis, tended to lessen the amount of
contact time the mothers had with their children.

In light of this, Bernal and co-author, Professor Michael
Keane of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, compared
single mothers who had children between 1990 and 2000 and were
therefore subject to the new work requirements, with those who
had children in previous years, who were impacted by a
different set of welfare rules and were consequently able to
spend more time with their children.

Using data collected from 1,519 single mothers involved in
the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in the States, the
researchers looked at the effects of the mothers’ use of child
care and their household income on their children’s
cognitive-ability test scores at ages 3 to 6.

Overall, the mother’s choice of child care during their
child’s first year of life did not seem to affect the child’s
later cognitive performance, the study findings show.

However, achievement scores among children placed in
informal child care after their first year of life were 3.5
percent lower than they would have been if they had remained in
their mother’s care or had been placed in some type of formal
child care, the researchers estimate.

In fact, each full year of informal child care, after the
child’s first year, was associated with a 2.9 percent reduction
in the child’s test scores.

Children who were placed in formal childcare settings, in
contrast, did not show any significant reduction in test
scores.

Household income did not seem to greatly impact the child’s
achievement scores, particularly when the mother’s educational
level was taken into consideration, the researchers note.

Bernal and Keane did not investigate why children in
informal childcare had lowered achievement scores, but they
speculate it may be due to a number of factors.

For example, workers at childcare centers may be better
trained than relatives or other informal childcare providers.
Also, they add, formal childcare environments may provide more
organization and discipline, more educational activity and more
stimulation for the child as he or she interacts with other
children.

“Loosely speaking, it would be better if mothers could
spend more time with children in the first few years after
birth, because the relatively small amount of money they can
earn in those years (compared to their lifetime income), isn’t
going to make nearly as much difference for the child’s
outcomes as the mother’s time input would make,” Keane told
Reuters Health.

Bernal added, “We do not advocate for women to stay at
home, but rather for policies to be designed in such a way that
we can provide women with the types of daycare that can benefit
children, with subsidies or with on-site daycare centers.”




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