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Leading Authority Disputes Child Care Statements

July 16, 2003

The head of the National Institute for Early Education Research took issue today with statements about a study of children in child care, calling them “a disservice to every parent who worries about making the best choice for their children.

“Results like these, taken out of context, are of little help to parents who are left to weigh the pros and cons of child care arrangements which must take into consideration program quality and particular needs of a young child.”

NIEER Director Steve Barnett said the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, indicates, as does other research, that child care can lead to increased behavior problems.

“However, other rigorous studies find that high-quality programs for even very young children can have the opposite effect, actually reducing behavior problems. In addition research has found that children make positive gains in learning and some social behaviors that could easily outweigh the negative effects found in the NICHD study.

“Bashing child care, with isolated findings, is not the answer, especially given the number of parents who have to work – who don’t have a choice. We need to fix it.”

“The NICHD finding is a reason for caution,” said Barnett. “Parents should consider how their child might be affected and the quality of child care available.” Every child and child care arrangement is different – some children are low risks for problem behavior and thrive in groups, some child care arrangements are much better than others. The benefits of preschool can far outweigh the potential risk of behavior problems, and the parents of each child have different factors to weigh in making the child care decision.”

One of the most important conclusions to be drawn from this study is that not enough is being done to ensure that families can access child care that is good enough. We know a great deal about how to minimize the negative and maximize the positive, but state and federal policy do not require or support high standards for child care. We can and should do better to support the social and emotional development of young children.


The National Institute for Early Education Research in New Brunswick, NJ, is a nationally-recognized think tank on early childhood education issues.