ERIC Identifier: ED482881
Publication Date: 2003-12-00
Author: Cryer, Debby,Hurwitz, Sarah,Wolery, Mark
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Continuity of Caregiver for Infants and Toddlers. ERIC
According to the 1999 National Survey of American Families, an estimated
infants under a year of age are participating in center-based care
programs, while the numbers are higher for 1-year-olds (16%) and 2-year-olds
(Ehrle, Adams, & Tout, 2001). The practices used in caring for
these infants and toddlers may have strong and enduring impacts on children's development
well-being. In terms of child care quality during the first three years,
higher quality is
associated with better mother-child relationships, fewer reports of
problems, higher cognitive and language outcomes, and better readiness
(Burchinal et al., 1996; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1996).
In addition to the general quality of care for infants and toddlers, discrete
practices may influence the development of infants and toddlers. One practice
that is currently attracting substantial interest is the provision of continuity
of caregivers for young children. Continuity of caregivers means that infants
and toddlers remain with the same teacher(s) during a significant part,
if not all, of their first years in a program.
CONTINUITY OF CAREGIVER
Traditionally, young children in center-based child care programs have
a series of
different caregivers during the first three years of life. Centers
often follow the lock-step elementary school practice of moving children
to a different class/teacher at the end of the year. Many programs move
children more often, from class to class, teacher to teacher, as soon as
they attain certain developmental milestones, such as crawling or walking.
Some programs may move children on a daily basis to meet ratio or other
staffing requirements. This practice is often used to ensure efficient
use of program resources by keeping classes full and enrolling infants,
for whom there is more child care demand. High rates of teacher turnover
increase the likelihood that children will change teachers repeatedly during
the infant/toddler years (Helburn, 1995; Whitebook, Howes, & Phillips,
The rationale for continuity of caregiver is similar to that for assigning
primary caregivers to very young children. Primary caregivers take major
responsibility for meeting the careand educational needs of a small group
of children, within a larger group. Both practices, continuity of caregiver
and primary caregiver, are intended to create a consistent personal relationship
between a child and a teacher.
In these practices (primary caregiver and continuity of caregiver),
teachers are minimized because transitions are seen as being stressful
for the child
(and adults) and wasteful in terms of learning time. When a child is
moved to a new
caregiver, recommended practice suggests that strategies be used to
ease transitions.For example, children can visit their new class and teacher before
moving, or their new teacher can visit them a few times so that they can get to know one
THEORY AND RESEARCH
The current professional recommendation of continuity of caregiver for
toddlers is based on conclusions drawn from child development theory
and from limited research findings. Theoretically, issues regarding the development of
attachment are considered paramount for infants and toddlers (Ainsworth
et al., 1978;
Bowlby, 1982; Smith & Pederson, 1988). Secure maternal relationships
are associated with more positive child outcomes, especially with regard
to social-emotional development (e.g., Matas, Arend, & Sroufe, 1978;
Jacobson & Wille, 1986). There also is evidence that maternal attachment
is related to children's language development (Klann-Delius & Hofmeister,
1997; van Ijzendoorn et al., 1995), cognitive development (van Ijzendoorn
et al., 1995), and emergent literacy (Bus & van Ijzendoorn, 1988).
Some evidence suggests that in addition to attachment to mothers, the
attachment to a primary caregiver in out-of-home child care is also
(Cummings, 1980; Goossens & van Ijzendoorn, 1990; Howes & Hamilton,
Raikes' (1993) research suggests that children take a significant amount
of time to form
attachments to caregivers, so they are less likely to form attachments
caregiver changes occur. Howes and Hamilton (1992) found that with
in caregivers, toddlers are less likely to relate to a new caregiver
based on her own
behavior but rather re-create the quality of the relationship with
a previous caregiver.
They also report a relationship between the number of caregiver losses
experienced by a preschooler and the likelihood that the child will be socially withdrawn
or aggressive with peers (Howes & Hamilton, 1993). It is possible that the effects
of caregiver changes might relate to other areas of children's development
The extent to which children change caregivers during the first three
years in child care
centers is not known, but it is assumed to be high (Howes & Hamilton,
1993). Likewise, little is known about the extent to which continuity of
caregiver is practiced, although reports of survey research conducted by
Cryer et al. (2000) of 273 centers indicate that relatively few programs,
whether accredited or non- accredited, provide continuity of caregivers
for infants and even fewer provide it for toddlers.
IMPLEMENTING CONTINUITY OF CAREGIVER
When the practice of continuity of caregiver is implemented in child
various strategies are used. For example, the amount of time that children
the same teacher might vary, with some having the same teacher through
the first and
second years, and others having the same teacher for a shorter but
(e.g., 18 months). Keeping children with the same teacher is more likely
groups are used, because having a birthday or reaching developmental
does not force a change in class. Continuity of caregiver, however,
is also used with
same-age groupings. Teachers and their children may use the same physical
through their years together, or they may move from one classroom to
classes with multiple teachers, all teachers and children might move
together, while in
another setting, a subgroup of children might move with only one of
the teachers. Thus,
even within this practice (continuity of caregivers), there can be
Yet the major requirement for providing continuity of caregiver is
To offer continuity of care for infants and toddlers, center staff might
want to consider
the following suggestions:
*Avoid taking new children only in the youngest group; this practice
children up one at a time and separates them from the teacher to whom
*Recruit new children to fill in at upper age levels when it is more
appropriate to have more children per adult.
*Use mixed-age groupings.
*Reward staff for longevity with the program.
*If a staff member leaves, overlap staff so that children are never
left with strangers.
Although positive child development effects may be associated with the
continuity of caregiver, it is certainly possible that there are also
associated with the practice. For example, if a child spends several
years with a teacher who interacts negatively with the child, undesirable
outcomes would be likely. At this time, the actual effects associated with
the practice are based only on theoretical
assumption and limited research. Center staff may require more compelling
that a practice is truly a better option before undertaking the substantial
that are required in making a significant change.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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