Family Influence Affirmed In Early Childhood Study
BOSTON--Even lots of child care by non-family members does not diminish the profound influences of family on young children, researchers have found.
Working for the federal Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researchers followed about 1,300 newborns at 10 sites over seven years. By age 6 months, most were in child care with someone other than a parent--a relative, home provider, day care center. Some of the findings were summarized yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
The researchers measured the quality of family environment based on such factors as income, a mother's education, how sensitively the mother handles her child's needs and how well she plays with her child.
High scores in those areas predicted good outcomes in children more strongly than the quality of care by someone else. Such outcomes at ages 2 and 3 included mental and language skills, school readiness and positive social behavior.
In a finding that surprised some researchers, the relationship between the family factors and outcomes in children stays the same whether the children spend less than 10 hours or more than 30 hours weekly in out-of-family child care. When both family and child care appear to influence outcomes in children, the estimated impact of family is at least twice as great as the child care influences.
The project's findings are similar to earlier research on the impact of preschool, which children usually attend at ages 3 and 4.
"I find it very reassuring for parents who work," said Sarah L. Friedman, scientific coordinator of the federal project. "It means what parents believe and what parents do and the quality of the family environment make a difference."
Psychologist Margaret Burchinal, who analyzes statistics for the federal project, cautioned that the research also underscores the value of good child care. "It's not as important as the home, but it is important," she said.
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