Twenty years ago, as society debated whether children who
attended day care would suffer long-term damage, the National
Institutes of Health initiated the longest-running U.S. study of
babies and toddlers in child care.
Now, those babies are teenagers, and the study has found that
day care actually enhanced their academic success. If, that is,
those children were enrolled in high-quality care.
Researchers defined quality care as having warm, supportive
caregivers who provide cognitive stimulation to the children.
Babies and preschoolers who attended such day cares scored slightly
higher in academic and cognitive measures as teens than those in
The study, which tracked 1,300 children nationwide, was
published in the journal Child Development and funded by the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
It found that the teens' achievement pattern was the same
regardless of family income, the mother's level of education and
the mother's reports of depression.
Maria Whelan, president and CEO of the non-profit group Illinois
Action for Children, isn't surprised that quality care can benefit
children from any socio-economic background. What shocks her is
that society has yet to make such care affordable.
"The prevailing attitude is that day care only has to be good
enough, and we can underfund it," she says. Quality child care
centers that are receiving state support, she says, are able to
improve programs only through other resources, such as finding
grant money or charging parents higher fees.
Whelan says many working poor families pay 15 percent of their
income in child care, compared with roughly 8 percent for middle
and upper income families. Recently, Act for Children has been able
to use federal funds to help some families reduce the bite that
child care can take out of a poor family's budget.
But financial support for strong child care needs to reach even
more families, she says. "We have these little tiny windows of time
when children are young, and this massive opportunity to give them
a quality experience."
Lisa Applegate is a freelance writer and mom of one living in Chicago.
See more of Lisa's stories here.
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