The topic of Child Care always brings about heated if not polarising debates amongst many parents for numerous reasons, be it a lack of Child Care services, affordability or the emotionally charged issues surrounding when and how much Child Care is appropriate for one’s child. There’s been an awful lot of conjecture, yet limited reliable or relevant research. A little over a year ago in Norway, a very important piece of Child Care development research was made public with little fanfare, shedding important light on the subject.
“The study resulted in a pretty clear-cut conclusion: irrespective of how the researchers examined the amount of time that kids spent in Child Care, there is very little supporting evidence to indicate any evidence of behavioural problems.”
Essentially the research examined whether the quantity of time children spent in Child Care has any lasting impact on their development.
The study involved investigating 750,000 Norwegian children. The mothers were asked to report how often their children attended Child Care at both 18 months of age, then again at three years of age. They were also asked to complete a questionnaire regarding their children’s behaviour. Of most relevance to the researchers was studying what is known as ‘externalising problems’, those behaviours linked with what’s commonly referred to as ‘acting out’, such as aggression or overt attention seeking.
The study resulted in a pretty clear-cut conclusion: irrespective of how the researchers examined the amount of time that kids spent in Child Care, there is very little supporting evidence to indicate any evidence of behavioural problems. Basically speaking, this is big news in the childcare debate, as this study was by far the largest and arguably the most rigorous Child Care study ever, providing hugely important findings for the parents.
Why these Child Care findings are important
It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the idea of Child Care being potentially ‘bad‘ for children first began to take root. These views were first described in studies undertaken in the US, which claimed that letting a child attend more than 20 hours per week in non-parental care may possibly pose a risk for child–parent bonding, along with psychological and behavioural adjustment issues for the young child.
Further research, again mostly conducted in the US, showed similar results, leading to a host of sensational media headlines that raised the blood pressure of parents’ around the globe, giving them what seemed like valid cause for concern.
Interestingly, what this study from Norway added to the debate was a vitally different socio-political context to the US. If you’re not up on your Norwegian politics, there are two policies of theirs that are worth considering in this argument:
1. Norwegians have almost universal access to day care
2. Norwegians have Child Care quality standards that are regulated
As such what this study highlighted was the issue of quality when it comes to the provision of Child Care. And plainly, good Child Care and bad Child Care are worlds apart; as is good parenting and bad parenting – or good teaching and bad. When you consider this, it’s easy to understand that low quality Child Care can most certainly lead to behavioural problems in children. Case understood.
Of equal interest, however, is that these Norwegian policies ensure not only that all children will receive high quality Child Care, but this care is available to all parents, regardless of their financial situation. Stimulating, playful, happy Child Care in a learning environment is available for all Norwegian children.
The great news regarding Australian politics is that we are, albeit slowly, catching up to Norwegian standards – with proof in the fact that studies of Australian children have also not been able to find any association between hours in Child Care and behavioural problems.
An important factor to remember in the Child Care debate
When you understand the difference in politics between Australia and Norway, and the US, it’s clearly apparent why numerous studies in the US would report the Child Care debate so negatively. With homecare commonplace in the US and absolutely no guarantee of high quality Child Care in America, it’s easy to understand how it could look like a less palatable option.
So why is the debate still so heated?
The subject of Child Care can bring about such emotion that it can be difficult for many to dissect analytically the issues pertaining to it. It has to be asked: is it more so about how society views working mothers? Are people viewing Child Care as some unfortunate by-product of female workforce participation, or is it happily accepted as a broader family policy, giving supportive employment rights, along with creating a positive learning environment for young children?
The issues and questions pertaining to Child Care must be addressed truthfully, and with perspective, rather than relying on outdated studies in countries with entirely different policies, as studies areclearly showing us there is no science to prove that early childhood education is in any way damaging to the child.
For more information about this study: “Little Evidence That Time in Child Care Causes Externalising Problems during Early Childhood in Norway”, see here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23311645
Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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