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The NICHD Study of Early Child Care 2

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II.Findings from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care (SPRING 1998)

1. A Description of Child Care in the NICHD Study

1) The History of Child Care Experiences Across the First Year of Life
The number of hours children spent in care varied. On average, each child in care received 33 hours of care per week, but this varied with ethnicity of the child and the family. White non-Hispanics averaged the fewest hours of care and black non-Hispanics the most; white Hispanics and others fell in between.

In general, most infants experienced more than one type of child care arrangement during the first year. When they first entered care, close to half of the infants were cared for either by a father/partner or grandparent, just over 20% were placed in a child care home, and only 8% were placed in center care. Most infants were placed in care prior to 4 months of age.

Overall, the findings indicate a very high reliance on infant care, with very early entry into care. Most infants spent the first year of their lives not in center care, but in less formal care arrangements.

2) Does Poverty Predict the Child Care Experience?
Nearly 35 percent of the families and children included in the study were living in poverty or near-poverty. Poverty was defined using the income-to-needs ratio, a standard measure of a family's economic situation (U.S. Department of Commerce). This is computed by taking the family income, exclusive of federal aid, and dividing this by the federal poverty threshold for that family (the federal poverty line for a family of four in 1991 was $13,924). Of the families in the study, 16.7% had an income-to-needs ratio below 1.0, and 18.4% had an income to needs ratio between 1.0 and 1.99.

The research team asked if poverty during the child's first year of life was a predictor of age of entry into care, type of care experienced, and quantity or quality of care used. Families and children in poverty (income-to-needs ratio < 1.0) were compared to those families and children in near-poverty (income-to-needs ratio of 1.0-1.99) or more affluent families, to determine if poverty determined the characteristics of the child care used.

With regard to the age of entry into care, families who moved in and out of poverty - known as transitory poverty - were most likely to place their infants in child care very early, before 3 months of age. The research team hypothesized that this early entry into care is due to the fact that extensive maternal employment may be required to pull the family out of poverty. Infants from families who were consistently poor and receiving public assistance over 15 months were less likely to enter care early or to be in any care at 15 months of age.

Families living in poverty were less likely to use any child care than other families, but if they did, they used just as many hours of care as families from other income groups. Children who were not in care by 15 months of age had mothers with the lowest level of education and were from the largest families. These families also tended to experience persistent poverty.

In general, children from families in poverty who were cared for in home settings (by a child care home provider or family member) received relatively low-quality care. Children from families living in poverty who attended center care received better quality care - comparable to the center care received by affluent children. Children in near-poverty (income to needs ratio between 1.00-1.99) received lower quality of center care than children in poverty, presumably because those in near-poverty do not quality for the subsidized care that those in poverty do.

In sum, partly because in the first year of life most infants are not in center care, infants from poor and near-poor families are more likely to receive relatively lower quality care.

3) Child Care Characteristics that Comprise High Quality of Care
The research team studied the different child care settings to determine those characteristics that contributed to positive care giving, and thus, high quality care. Positive care giving is measured by observing and documenting the frequency of interaction, and then rating the quality of the interaction. The child care settings were also measured both in terms of their "regulable" characteristics, or guidelines recommended by governments, such as group size, child-adult ratio, and physical environment; and of the care giver's characteristics, such as formal education, specialized training, child care experience, and beliefs about child rearing.

The research team found that child care situations with safer, cleaner, more stimulating physical environments and smaller group sizes, lower child-adult ratios, and care givers who allowed children to express their feelings and took their views into account, also had care givers who were observed to provide more sensitive, responsive, and cognitively stimulating care - quality of care that was expected to be associated with better developmental outcomes for children.

2. The Role of the Family

4) Demographic and Family Characteristics:
Do They Predict the Type of Care Used?
One of the objectives of the study was to determine the extent to which demographic and family variables predict the type of care that is used by each family. The research team examined three sets of variables, including demographic characteristics (ethnicity, maternal education, and family structure), economic characteristics (maternal and nonmaternal income) and family quality characteristics (maternal attitudes and beliefs and the quality of the home environment) to determine their relationship to the age of entry, and type, quantity and quality of care.

Family economics accounted primarily for both the amount, the age of entry into care and type and quality of care infants received. 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. Employed mothers who earned the highest incomes were most likely to place their infants in early care at 3-5 months, and were most likely to use in-home child care for the first 15 months. Children from families at the lowest and highest income levels received higher quality of care than those in the middle.

Beyond the economic factors (maternal and family income), mothers who believed that their children would do well when they were employed chose to begin child care in infancy and to use more care. Those who thought their employment posed risks to their child, tended to choose informal family-based or in-home care; those mothers who thought employment posed low risks to their child were more likely to use formal care in child care centers or homes.

5) Family Influences on Children in Extensive Child Care and Children in Nearly Exclusive Care by their Mother
Another objective of the study was to compare the influence of family on children's development for children both in nearly exclusive care by their mother (less than 10 hours of child care per week) and children in extensive child care (more than 30 hours of child care per week).

Family characteristics, including the family income and the mother's education, were strong predictors of children's outcomes - for both those children in nearly exclusive maternal care, and those children in extensive child care. These findings suggest that the influence of families on children's development is not significantly reduced or changed by extensive, nonparental care.
Child Research Net would like to thank The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the United States, its Director, Dr. Duane Alexander, and the investigators of the study (see list of investigators) for permitting reproduction of this article on the CRN web site.

The NICHD Study of Early Child Care, originally published as a booklet, was prepared by an NICHD staff writer, Ms. Robin Peth Pierce, based on scientific presentations and publications (see list of scientific publications) and after consultation with Dr. Sarah L. Friedman, Project Scientist and Scientific Coordinator of The NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. This is an U.S. government publication for the consumption of the general public and Child Research Net does not hold the copyright of this Study.

Information on the booklet:
Name of NICHD Staff Writer: Robin Peth Pierce
Title: The NICHD Study of Early Child Care
Publisher's name: NICHD
Published city: Bethesda, Maryland
Published year: 1998
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