Research on Quality in Infant-Toddler Programs.
by Honig, Alice Sterling
Concern about the quality of infant-toddler care programs has grown
recently in response to two factors. The first is the need for infant-toddler
care by employed parents. By 1997, a nationally representative study (Ehrle,
Adams, & Tout, 2001) documented that 73% of children under 3 years
regularly spent time in nonparental care. The second factor is the research
that emphasizes the importance of brain development in the early years.
Yet the National Child Care Staffing Study (NCCSS) (Whitebook, Howes, &
Phillips, 1990) of 227 infant and preschool centers in five major cities
reported that the quality of care was barely adequate. The Cost, Quality,
and Outcomes Study Team (1995, p. 40) reported for 400 centers that "most
child care--especially for infants and toddlers--is mediocre" (see also
NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2002). This Digest introduces
some of the many issues related to the quality of infant-toddler care.
MEASURING THE QUALITY OF CARE
The quality in infant-toddler programs is measured by examining structural
variables, such as space, number of babies per caregiver, or group size,
and by examining process variables, such as the richness of "turn-taking-talk"
and the amount of warmth and cuddling between caregivers and babies. Fenichel
and colleagues (1999), summarizing strategies synthesized from discussions
at the National Leadership Forum on Quality Care for Infants and Toddlers
in 1998, identified eight aspects of high-quality infant care: (1) health
and safety; (2) small groups of 3 to 4 infants per caregiver; (3) assigning
each baby to a primary caregiver; (4) ensuring continuity of care with
the same provider over time; (5) caregiver responsivity to infant signals;
(6) meeting each infant's needs in group care with a focus on individual
learning style and temperament; (7) cultural and linguistic sensitivity;
and (8) provision of a physical environment with variety, stimulation,
and planned activities.
The process variables that have received the most attention in research
to date involve the caregiver, including the relationships among turnover,
training, and teacher-child interactions. The NCCSS study reported an average
annual caregiver turnover rate of 41% across participating centers (Whitebook,
Howes, & Phillips, 1990). In addition, less than one-fifth of teachers
and assistants had attended two workshops or conferences during the year.
Yet research has shown that the number of training workshops and courses
in child development attended by teachers is significantly more likely
to account for higher-quality interactions between teachers and young children
than the number of years that center providers have worked in child care
(Honig & Hirallal, 1998). In licensed child care homes with moderate
group sizes (averaging around six children), caregiver training or education
was a better predictor of child care quality than child-to-adult ratios.
Caregivers with training were less detached with the children (Clarke-Stewart
et al., 2002). In this research, none of the structural characteristics
predicted caregiver sensitivity.
RESEARCH ON CHILD OUTCOMES
Research on Aggression. Some early studies indicated that when group
care for babies of low-income at-risk families emphasized cognitive enrichment,
the children were more likely to act aggressively (kicking, hitting, and
pushing) in kindergarten. However, when social skills training was added
to the curriculum, graduates were not more aggressive in kindergarten than
graduates of the control group (Haskins, 1985). Park and Honig (1991) reported
also that children who attended full-time child care in their first year
were rated higher in aggression by their preschool teachers than children
who had not been in full-time care. However, teachers (unaware of infant
care conditions for each child) also rated those preschoolers as having
better abstract thinking skills. The preschoolers did not show elevated
levels of assertiveness (compared with peers who had less than full-time
care as babies), contrary to the interpretations of some researchers. In
his summary of reports of U.S. infant day care, Belsky (1992) noted that
infants in nonparental care for more than 20 hours per week in the first
year of life exhibited heightened aggression and noncompliance during the
preschool and early school-age years (in addition to slightly higher rates
of attachment insecurity).
Longitudinal Studies of Effects. Research suggests that high-quality
care is associated with "better language and mathematics skills, better
cognitive and social skills, and better relationships with classmates"
("In Early-Childhood Education and Care: Quality Counts," 2002). The Syracuse
Family Development Research Project reported long-term beneficial effects
of a high-quality infant-toddler care program serving low-income, low-education,
single-parent families. The results included decreased juvenile delinquency
rates and less severe delinquency during adolescence, compared with a control
group (Lally, Mangione, & Honig, 1988). Ramey and colleagues (2000),
in a follow-up of 111 African American infants from at-risk families who
attended high-quality early care in the Abecedarian Project, reported that
at age 21, twice as many program graduates had fewer children of their
own and were still in school compared with the control group.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
has supported an ongoing national study of the development of more than
1,000 children (followed from birth) in 10 early child care sites (NICHD
Early Child Care Research Network, 2002, p. 135). Participation in centers,
and particularly in higher-quality centers, was a better predictor of academic
skills and language ability for children at 4 years of age than participation
in other forms of infant-toddler care. This study uses careful and frequent
observational assessments of quality. The major NICHD finding is that choice
of high-quality care is critical for children's learning, language, and
Regulated Care. Research shows that infant care regulated by a state
agency is of higher quality than unregulated care, and that stricter state
regulations are associated with better quality (Clarke-Stewart et al.,
2002). For example, official licensing agencies require more than 35 square
feet of space per child. In an unlicensed facility, with less than 25 square
feet per child, children have been observed to be more aggressive and destructive,
and to engage in random physical activity. Clarke-Stewart (1992) notes
that the purpose of regulation should be to "identify a reasonable floor
of quality and eliminate or modify care that fell below that floor" (p.
123). Among infants of working parents, 23% are placed in a child care
center. Most infant-toddler nonparental care is provided by relatives (29%),
family day care providers (18%), and nannies (6%), and these settings are
less likely to be regulated than are centers (Clarke-Stewart & Allhusen,
OTHER VARIABLES TO CONSIDER IN INFANT-TODDLER CARE
Research has not yet fully addressed a number of other variables related
to the particular vulnerabilities of infants and toddlers in center care.
Length of stay could affect an infant's experience of child care. Separation
anxiety and acute distress resulting from being away from the primary caregiver
(usually the mother) are quite common in babies, reaching a peak at about
18 months and gradually decreasing after age 2 (Kagan, Kearsley, &
Zelazo, 1978). Thus, even a high-quality center may be stressful for a
toddler left for 8 or more hours a day.
Infant temperament also matters. Shy babies may be overwhelmed by group
care in a center but flourish in a small family care setting. Older toddlers
bored in a small family care setting may engage enthusiastically with play
materials and peers available in the larger world of center care.
Age at entry, schedules, flexibility, and individualization may make
a difference to the quality of children's experiences. Infants and toddlers
are developing rapidly and are starting to explore the world. A "high-quality"
program for the toddler, for example, may need to include flexibility of
schedule for choice of activity, for sleeping, and for toilet learning.
A setting rich in activity but with highly structured and strictly scheduled
activities may not provide sufficient experience of experimenting with
choices for toddlers. Individual attention to the capabilities and needs
of infants and toddlers appears to be a critical element of a high-quality
Research indicates that choice of high-quality care is critical for
children's optimal development. These findings can alert families to look
for quality factors as they set out to find infant-toddler care (Honig,
2002) and sharpen public demand for providing training to ensure quality.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Belsky, J. (1992). Consequences of child care for children's development:
A deconstructionist view. In A. Booth (Ed.), CHILD CARE IN THE 1990S: TRENDS
AND CONSEQUENCES (pp. 83-94). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Clarke-Stewart, K. A. (1992). Consequences of child care-One more time:
A rejoinder. In A. Booth (Ed.), CHILD CARE IN THE 1990S. TRENDS AND CONSEQUENCES
(pp. 116-126). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Clarke-Stewart, K. A., & Allhusen, V. D. (2002). Nonparental caregiving.
In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), HANDBOOK OF PARENTING (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 215-252).
Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Clarke-Stewart, K. A., Vandell, D. L., Burchinal, M., O'Brien, M., &
McCartney, K. (2002). Do regulable features of child-care homes affect
children's development? EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY, 17(1), 52-86.
Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study Team. (1995). Cost, quality, and child
outcomes in child care centers: Key findings and recommendations. YOUNG
CHILDREN, 50(4), 40-44. EJ 503 726.
Ehrle, J., Adams, G., & Tout, K. (2001). WHO'S CARING FOR OUR YOUNGEST
CHILDREN? CHILD CARE PATTERNS OF INFANTS AND TODDLERS. Washington, DC:
Urban Institute. Available: http://newfederalism. urban.org/html/op42/occa42.html#exam.
ED 448 908.
Fenichel, E., Lurie-Hurvitz, E., & Griffin, A. (1999). Seizing the
moment to build momentum for quality infant/toddler child care: Highlights
of the Child Bureau and Head Start Bureau's National Leadership Forum on
Quality Care for Infants and Toddlers. ZERO TO THREE, 19(6), 3-17.
Haskins, R. (1985). Public school aggression among children with varying
day-care experience. CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 56(3), 689-703. EJ 324 258.
Honig, A. S. (2002). Choosing childcare for young children. In M. Bornstein
(Ed.), HANDBOOK OF PARENTING (2nd ed., Vol. 5, pp. 375-405). Mahwah, NJ:
Honig, A. S., & Hirallal, A. (1998). Which counts more for excellence
in childcare staff: Years in service, education level, or ECE coursework?
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In early-childhood education and care: Quality counts. (2002). QUALITY
COUNTS 2002: BUILDING BLOCKS FOR SUCCESS. Executive summary [Online]. Available:
Kagan, J., Kearsley, R. B., & Zelazo, P. R. (1978). INFANCY: ITS
PLACE IN HUMAN DEVELOPMENT. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lally, J. R., Mangione, P. L., & Honig, A. S. (1988). The Syracuse
University Family Development Research Program: Long-range impact of an
early intervention with low-income children and their families. In D. Powell
(Ed.), PARENT EDUCATION AS EARLY CHILDHOOD INTERVENTION: EMERGING DIRECTIONS
IN THEORY, RESEARCH, AND PRACTICE (pp. 79-104). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
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children's development prior to school entry: Results from the NICHD study
of early child care. AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, 39, 133-164.
Park, K., & Honig, A. S. (1991). Infant care patterns and later
teacher ratings of preschool behaviors. EARLY CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND CARE,
Ramey, C. T., Campbell, F. A., Burchinal, M., Skinner, M. L., Garner,
D. M., & Ramey, S. L. (2000). Persistent effects of early childhood
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SCIENCE, 4(1), 2-14.
Whitebook, M., Howes, C., & Phillips, D. (1990). WHO CARES? CHILD
CARE TEACHERS AND THE QUALITY OF CARE IN AMERICA. Oakland: CA: National
Child Care Staffing Study, Child Care Employee Project. ED 323 031.
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