- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

The more time that children spend in child care before kindergarten, the more likely they are to show aggression and other problem behavior in sixth grade, a large federally funded study has found.

Earlier research supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which also financed this latest study, had found this same connection among children in the early elementary grades.

The new NICHD research, released yesterday, “indicated that children with more experience in center settings continued to manifest somewhat more problem behaviors through sixth grade,” the authors wrote in a report published in the March/April issue of the journal Child Development.

“The fact that this result was not moderated by age means that this seemingly adverse consequence of center-based care did not dissipate, as did so many other effects of amount of child care on social functioning detected previously,” said the authors.

Jay Belsky, director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues and a psychology professor at Birkbeck University in London, was the lead author of the article.

In an analysis of more than 1,300 children tracked since birth as part of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, sixth-grade teachers reported that those who spent more time in early child care were more likely than other children to “be disobedient at school,” to “get in many fights” and to “argue a lot.”

But James Griffin, science officer at NICHD in charge of the study under way since 1991, cautioned that youngsters with more time in child care had only “slightly more” behavioral problems than other children.

Mr. Griffin said sixth-grade teachers involved in the research had a “problem checklist,” which they used to rate children on behaviors such as bullying, bragging, arguing, fighting, lying, cheating, cruelty and destructiveness, including arson.

He and the researchers stressed that although children who had spent greater time in center care in early childhood were more likely to score higher on teacher reports of aggression and disobedience, their behaviors were in the normal range and they were not considered clinically disordered.

The researchers evaluated the children’s intellectual functioning and academic achievement from kindergarten through fifth grade and their social development through sixth grade. Other factors besides nonmaternal child care, including parenting quality and quality of classroom instruction, were also measured.

Mr. Griffin, in an interview yesterday, noted that just as researchers found a small but consistent increase in behavioral problems among children who spent a lot of time in child care centers in their first four years, they also found that those who had had high-quality early child care had slightly higher vocabulary scores in the fifth grade than those who had had lower-quality early child care.

“These findings add to the growing body of research showing that the quality and type of child care a child experiences early in life can have a lasting impact on their development,” said Mr. Griffin.

However, the research found that parenting quality consistently was a much more important predictor of child maturation than was the type, quantity or quality of child care. “So parents are a much greater influence on a child’s development than is child care,” Mr. Griffin said.

Because this was an observational study, the researchers said, “No claims can or should be made on the basis of this report that center-based child care can contribute to or predicts psychopathology.”

Mr. Griffin agreed. “You can’t say [from this study that] center-based child care causes behavioral problems. It could be something else.”

In their report, Mr. Belsky and his research colleagues suggest that the reason behavioral problems among those with early child care background linger through the sixth grade could be because primary-grade teachers do not effectively deal with such behaviors when the children are in those earlier grades. They said that of the problem is the emphasis that primary-grade teachers must place on academics.

The NICHD study continues to look at the effects of early child care and other factors on children as they grow. Mr. Griffin said data was recently collected for youths approaching age 15. He said those findings could be released in about a year.

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