I will answer each question with findings from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care.
- Does infant care have a deleterious effect on the formation of secure attachment to mothers or on mother-child interactions?
- What are the direct and indirect effects of child care on the development of children's cognitive development, their social development, their social competence and social adjustment?
- Do families who place their children in child care have less influence on the development of their children?
In this Overhead 8, we can see the results of analyses in which maternal predictors were entered into the equation after controlling for family income and maternal beliefs about the value of maternal work for children's development. Security of attachment was measured during the strange situation when the children were 15 months of age.
We can see that maternal psychological adjustment predicted security of attachment. The more psychologically well adjusted the mother, the greater the probability that her child would be securely attached. Maternal psychological adjustment was measured by a composite of maternal anxiety, depression, sociability, fun loving, optimism, agreeableness, her being trusting, helpful, and forgiving.
Maternal sensitivity also predicted security of attachment. But that depended on the measure of sensitivity used. When maternal sensitivity was measured using the Caldwell's and Bradley's H.O.M.E., (which is a semi-structured interview-observation conducted in the family home), it was found that the more sensitive and responsive the mother to her infant, the higher the probability of secure attachment. However, sensitivity measured during mother-child play was not predictive of secure attachment.
Because I am interested in telling you about the effects of family variables in relation to the effect of child care variables, let's see what were the effects of child care on attachment.
In Overhead 9, our two measures of observed quality of care, that is, positive care frequency and positive care ratings, our measure of hours per week in care, age of entry into care, and number of child care arrangements the child entered were not predictive of security of attachment. The analyses controlled for family characteristics, maternal attitudes and parenting.
Now, let's see if there are family circumstances under which child care is predictive of children's attachment to their mothers.
Overhead 10 indicates that when maternal sensitivity was low, low-quality child care, more than 10 hours per week in child care and changing child care settings more than once in the first 15 months of life, increased the probability of insecure attachment.
For example, the proportion of secure children among those receiving low scores on both maternal sensitivity and on our measure of quality of care were between .44, which is 44%, and .51, 51%. The mean proportion of secure attachment for the rest of the children was .62.
Before we go on with the results of the study of early child care, I would like to tell you a bit more about what we were looking for when we coded maternal sensitivity and when we coded child care quality. So, first of all, let's look at Overhead 11.
Overhead 11 and Overhead 12 indicate 10 markers of maternal sensitivity. The sensitive mother acknowledges her child's affect. She is sensitive to her child's talk and activity. She times her activities with the child to reflect her child's interest. She changes the pace to accommodate the expressed needs of her child. She reads her child's interests and behaves accordingly. She shares positive affect with her child. She provides an appropriate level of stimulation and an appropriate range and variety of activities. She disciplines her child in a manner that the child can understand and benefit from. She is flexible in handling compliance and autonomy.
At the child care setting we collected data about the sensitivity of the child care provider to the study child. That is, the focus was the child and we looked not at how the provider behaves to the classroom as a whole, but how she behaves to the target child. The data was collected over two sessions of 44 minutes each. The two sessions were about a week or so apart at each period of data collection. (That is, we collected data at 6 months, 15 months, 24 months, and 36 months of age). The session included minute by minute coding of observed behaviors of the child care provider and also included ratings of the child care provider in interactions with the child.
Please look at Overheads 13 and 14 sequentially. Overhead 13 shows the behavioral scales, the minute by minute scales of frequencies of behavior. Overhead 14 indicates the ratings. They are very similar behaviors, but the methods of gathering information by the same data collectors are different.
I have already talked to you about our attachment results. Now I want to talk about mother-child interaction. When I was talking to members of the press about our results, it became clear to me that the general public does not make a distinction between the concept of attachment and the concept of mother-child interaction. These are two different concepts that are measured differently. Attachment refers to the child's sense of security, of trust in the mother. Mother-child interaction refers to the sensitivity and responsiveness of the mother to the child and the child's engagement with the mother when they are together and are expected to be sharing a focus of attention.
We rated qualities of mother-child interaction from 15-minute videotaped observations of semi-structured mother-child play when the children were 6, 15, 24, and 36 months of age.
Overhead 15 shows predictors of maternal sensitivity and child positive engagement during mother child interaction. As you can see in this overhead, we found that family income, maternal education, and marital or partnered status were all statistically significant predictors of maternal sensitivity during mother-child play. The higher the mothers scored on these variables, the more sensitive they were in their interactions with their children. The more depressed the mothers and the more anxious about separating from their children, the less sensitive they were during play with their children.
The children's positive engagement with the mother was predicted by most of the variables that predicted maternal sensitivity. Family income, maternal education, maternal depression and maternal separation anxiety predicted the children's positive engagement.
As we did in the case of attachment, let's look at the prediction from child care variables. The quality of child care was associated positively with mothers' sensitivity in interaction with their children. But, the more hours children spend in child care, the less sensitive the mother and the less positively engaged the child. Noteworthy is the finding that this association of time in care and mothers' sensitivity was evident across the 6, 15, 24 and 36-month assessment occasions. To be noted also, of course, is that the effects were small to modest in magnitude, but about the same size as commonly studied determinants of parent-infant interaction such as maternal depression and infant temperament, though not as large as the effect of maternal education. That is, it was about as third as large.
So, we have seen so far that family characteristics were associated with infant attachment as measured at 15 months of age and with mother-child interaction during the first three years of life. These family effects were greater than were the effects of child care.
Now let's focus on the second question on the mind of parents and look at Overhead 16. What are the direct and indirect effects of child care on the development of children's cognitive development, their social competence and social adjustment?
We conducted analyses of the relation between child care experiences over the first three years of life and children's cognitive and language development, school readiness, behavior problems, compliance, and peer relations.
Overhead 17 indicates the cognitive outcomes. Our family predictors were maternal PPVT, family income, home quality and maternal stimulation. Our child care variables were quantity of care, number of times in center care, number of times in child care home, overall child care quality and language stimulation. The children's outcomes at 24 and 36 months of age were in the domain of cognition and language.
I would like to summarize all the outcomes together before discussing the results. Overhead 18 provides a social analysis. The family predictors included family income, mother's psychological adjustment, and mothering. Child care predictors were quantity, entry age into child care, quality of care, stability of care, and group care. The children's outcomes pertained to non-compliance in child care and caregiver-reported problem behaviors. Maternal reports of the child's social competence and problem behavior are not shown in the overheads, but they appear in our analysis.
In the analysis, we found for that both the cognitive and social outcomes, the control variables of family were consistently predictive of children's developmental outcomes. In general, the relations between child care predictors and developmental outcomes were not as consistent. Also, when statistically significant child care effects were found, they were, of lesser magnitude then family effects, that is, the cluster of family variables explained more of the individual differences in outcomes than did the child care cluster of variables.