ERIC Identifier: ED301362
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Griffin, Abbey - Fein, Greta
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Infant Day Care: The Critical Issues. ERIC Digest.
There is a critical need to increase the availability of quality infant care.
If parents, caregivers and policymakers are to understand standards of quality,
they must first understand the development of attachment, the effects of early
separations, parent characteristics and family circumstances that may contribute
to insecurity, and the potential benefits of secure attachment to a caregiver.
This digest discusses infant care quality and the debate on infant attachment.
INFANT DAY CARE TODAY
In March 1970, 24% of mothers with
children under 2 years old were in the labor force. By March 1984, the figure
was 46.8% (U.S. Dept. of Labor, 1984). Who takes care of the babies while the
mothers work? Some infants (25%) are cared for in their own homes. Others (75%)
are cared for outside the home by a baby-sitter, or in family day care (group
care by an individual in her home). Only 6% of infants under a year old and 12%
of those under 2 are cared for in licensed center-based care (U.S. Dept. of
Commerce, June 1982). Although state licensing standards apply to center-based
and family day care, most family day care programs remain unlicensed. The crisis
in day care is such that the choice of care is often determined by cost and
availability, rather than quality.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT QUALITY?
Research on university-based
day care models and a growing number of studies on community-based caregiving
arrangements (baby-sitters, family day care) are identifying indices of quality
care. Phillips and Howes (Phillips, 1987) organize information on infant day
care quality into three categories: (1) structural features (group size,
staff-child ratios, caregiver training, equipment, space); (2) dynamic aspects
(experiences and interactions); and (3) contextual features (staff stability and
turnover, type of setting).
STRUCTURAL FEATURES: The National Day Care Study (Roupp, Travers, Glantz and
Coelen, 1979) found that for children under 2, small group size, low
staff-infant ratios, and strong caregiver qualifications, predicted positive
outcomes. Caregivers with larger groups spent more time in management tasks and
restricting behavior, and less time in one-to-one interaction and
cognitive-language stimulation. High adult-infant ratios were associated with
increased apathy and distress in infants. Caregivers with little child-related
formal education engaged in less frequent positive adult-infant interactions and
were less likely to have a developmentally appropriate program.
The optimum standards of the Accreditation Criteria of the National Academy
of Early Childhood Programs (Bredekamp, 1984) specifies a maximum group size of
8 and a staff-child ratio of 1:4 for infants under 12 months. For infants of 1
to 2 years, maximum group size should be 12, and staff-child ratio 1:4. The lead
teacher in an infant center should have a baccalaureate degree in early
childhood education or child development.
DYNAMIC FEATURES: Quality and frequency of adult-child interactions are
critical variables in infant care. Children under two rely on and learn from
interactions with adults. Adults are the secure base from which infants explore
the environment and develop social competence with peers. Adults who talk to
infants encourage language development. Adults who respond to infant signals and
needs build infants' self-esteem and physical and cognitive abilities
CONTEXTUAL FEATURES: Studies contrasting types of caregiving are limited in
number and report mixed results. Most confirm that staff-child ratios, group
size, and caregiver stability define quality in infant care. In each type of
care, there is great variability in environment and caregiver qualities. Thus
child outcomes depend less on form of care than on characteristics of the
setting (Phillips, 1987, Clarke-Stewart and Fein, 1984).
Caregiver stability is of concern because of the high turn-over rate: 40% in
centers and 60% in family day care and out-of-home babysitting (U.S. Dept. of
Labor, 1984). Low salaries and inadequate benefits make it difficult to attract
and maintain qualified caregivers. Constant changes of caregiver or caregiving
arrangement inhibit benefits of care (Ainslie and Anderson, 1984; Phillips and
EFFECTS OF INFANT CARE
Several studies show that day care
may benefit low-income children and have benign, if not beneficial, effects on
middle-class children. High quality care can prevent the drop in IQ that often
occurs between 12 and 30 months in home-reared, low-income children, and enhance
their language and problem-solving skills. Greater curiosity, better
concentration, and improved on-task behavior have been associated with day care
experience in all income groups. Day care children are also seen as being more
socially competent and independent (Clarke-Stewart and Fein, 1984; Belsky and
Research findings on socioemotional development are not unanimous. Several
recent studies suggest that development outcomes are related to the infant's
experience in a particular caregiving environment (Phillips, 1987). Structural,
dynamic, and contextual aspects may determine the infant's quality of life in
care, and thus the effects of care. Another concern is age of entry. Some
studies indicate that day care children who appear more assertive, less
responsive to adults, and more avoidant in reunions with parents, frequently
have begun day care before their first birthday.
INFANT CARE: THE ISSUE OF ATTACHMENT
suggest that for infants under 1, separation from mother for over 20 hours a
week may disrupt development of attachment and thus put some children at-risk
for social and emotional problems. Daily separations may represent the kind of
unavailability that infants experience as maternal rejection. Maternal rejection
or unpredictability are associated with insecure attachment in infants. Other
researchers argue that these conclusions are premature, the effects reported are
weak, and the studies have serious methodological problems. Critics challenge
definitions of negative social behaviors (e.g., aggression, which may really be
assertiveness) and indicators of insecurity (e.g., avoidance of mother, which
may really indicate precocious independence). These positions have been
presented in the special infant day care issues of the EARLY CHILDHOOD
Studies comparing home versus employed
mothers do not tell us what factors affect parents' ability to offer infants the
kind of environment associated with secure attachment. For example, stress from
balancing work and family is particularly evident in single, adolescent, and
low-income families (Ainslie, 1984). In one study, families under stress
reported that they spent less time researching day care options, needed longer
hours, and used poorer quality care (Phillips, 1987). A satisfactory support
system may be important for parents and essential to parents experiencing
stress. Mothers of insecurely attached infants may have less harmonious
marriages and receive less support from spouses and community. Mothers who
prefer to work or to stay at home and do so may have more secure infants than
those whose work status is at odds with their preference. Work preference is
linked to mothers' anxiety about leaving children. Stress and parent anxiety may
make separation and adjustment to care difficult. On the other hand, secure
attachment to the caregiver may offset damaging effects on the infant. Quality
day care can reduce stress by providing a support system for parents and
allaying their concerns about their infant (Ainslie, 1984).
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ainslie, Ricardo (Ed.). THE CHILD AND
THE DAY CARE SETTING: QUALITATIVE VARIATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT. New York: Praeger
Belsky, Jay and Lawrence Steinberg. "The Effects of Day Care: A Critical
Review." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 49 (1978): 929-949. Bredekamp, Sue (Ed.).
DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICE. Washington, DC: National Association for
the Education of Young Children, 1984.
Clarke-Stewart, Alison and Greta Fein. "Early Childhood Programs." In M.
Haith and J. Campos (Vol. Eds.), HANDBOOK OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGY VOL. 2: INFANCY
AND DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOBIOLOGY. New York: Wiley, 1983.
EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY, vol. 3, nos. 3 and 4. (Special Infant Day
Phillips, Deborah. QUALITY IN CHILD CARE: WHAT DOES RESEARCH TELL US?
Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1987.
Roupp, Richard, J. Travers, F. Glantz, and C. Coelen. CHILDREN AT THE CENTER: FINAL RESULTS OF THE NATIONAL DAY CARE STUDY. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates, 1979.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. CURRENT POPULATION REPORTS
SPECIAL STUDIES SERIES P-23, NO. 129. "Child Care Arrangements of Working
Mothers." June 1982: p. 18.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. MONTHLY LABOR REVIEW.
December 1984: pp. 31-34.