Are There Long-Term Effects of Early Child Care?

This article was written in 2007. The purpose of the paper is to determine whether or not there are there are any long term effects of early child care, specifically, of the non-parental kind of care that is found in schools by looking at the child’s development and care experiences in the first 54 months of life. This issue is critical in the current era because demographic trends show that more women are part of the workforce than ever.  Maternal leaves are brief compared to the developmental periods in early childhood. Therefore necessarily many children are taken care of by people who are not their parents through their infant, toddler and preschool years. If it can be shown that there are specific behaviors or types of environments that are detrimental to children’s long term development, then this has ramifications for practitioners in several fields. First of all parents would need to very carefully consider the impact that their choice of care environment has on the future of their children.  Care takers would need to pay close attention to best practices in their field so as to prevent stunting children and child psychologists would need to be aware of the root causes of any dysfunction so as to address it in their practice (Belsky, et al., 2007).

The researchers employed a quantitative longitudinal model. The variables that were looking at for child care were characteristics i.e. who was giving the care, the quantity i.e. how often, the type, i.e. home based or external, quality with observational assessments (Belsky, et al., 2007). Given that the researchers are looking at long term effects of the independent variable, child care, a longitudinal model would give a more accurate picture than any other form of model because it captures the data in question as it is happening to a large group of children. This allows for more rigorous statistical analysis and a lesser reliance on human memory. There is a debate in research methods regarding quantities versus qualitative studies and their respective vigorousness. Quantitative research is often seen as superior because it avoids subjectivity. In this case, the quantities method is superior in my opinion because it adds validity to the study results. The research was carried out in an observational way to some degree in that it there was not laboratory testing. Children left in their natural habitat and simply allowed to grow as they normally would with minimal intrusion from the researchers. This increases the validity of the study because it closely matches the more general experiences of non-study participant children.

In order to carry out the study the researchers went to hospitals to find women who have given birth. Although in total 1,264 families and their children became the actual study participants, only 293 children had complete data. The women were recruited in 10 locations all over the United States with mixed demographics with respect to ethnicity and income. However children with more complete data were more likely to be wealthier with parents who were more caring (Belsky, et al., 2007).  This does not particularly surprise me. To determine whether or not a sample is large enough the equation  can be used. In this case z= 1.96 assuming a 95% confidence interval with 5% error. With no prior knowledge of p or q they are each assumed as .5. Therefore the needed sample size is 385 participants. Because the actual sample size is smaller the results are less accurate.

Children who had higher quality care had better vocabulary skills

The researchers found that children who had higher quality care had better vocabulary skills than children with poor skills. This difference persistent into the fifth and six grades. Additionally children that were given more care in child care centers had behavioral problems that went into the sixth grade. This suggests that the effect of the environment in the early years is long lasting. However, the study cautions that this cannot be used as indications for patho psychology because the diagnosis of problem behavior was not clinically diagnosed and instead relies on reported behavior. Overall the study found that early child care has modest effects on several other areas that degraded over time (Belsky, et al., 2007).

The study makes suggestions as to the implications for its findings. In order to improve the vocabulary skills of children who are not given as rich an opportunity to hear the adult talk that improves their own vocabularies, more community child care offerings can be developed.  With respect to child care centers and behavior it is difficult to make a recommendation on  what to look for in a child care center because the exact reason for the connection is uncertain (Belsky, et al., 2007). Therefore it is of interest not only in the practical sense to practitioners but also in a research sense because it is an area of further study. The fact that child care is so important in the child’s ability and behavior is something that needs to be considered whenever a child is encountered in practice because it might help to build a rapport and understanding with both child and parent and help to generate helpful recommendations.

I was very impressed by the completeness and thoroughness of the study researchers.  Carrying out a longitudinal study of this or any nature must require a great deal of patience and tenacity. The statistical analysis was vigorous and thorough and the results appear to be accurate and highly reliable. The topic is one of great importance because of the vast ramifications of the impact of child care on the child and possibly even the adult’s long term development.  Should I ever become a parent, the results of this study are something that I would consider when choosing my own care child options because I would want  them to have the best possible start in life. I imagine that in a way this article supports the idea of more personal high quality home based care than center based care.


Belsky, J., Burchinal, M., McCartney, K., Vandell, D., Clarke-Stewart, K., & Owen, O. (2007). Are There Long-Term Effects of Early Child Care? Child Development, 78(2), 681 – 701.


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