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For 15 years, the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) has funded studies of the impact of day care on children's development, publishing interim results at intervals. As NICHD findings dribbled out, working mothers with children in day care felt, alternately, dashed and vindicated:
Now, at last, NICHD has aggregated the results of the studies and summarized them in a single publication. The conclusion? Day care does affect development but not nearly as much or as importantly as family life and the quality of parenting. Parent and family features were two to three times more strongly linked to child development than was child care during preschool years.
The quality of child care does matter: Children do better when staff is well trained and the child-to-adult ratio is low. But the quality of interaction between mothers and children was much more important; to develop optimally, what children need most are mothers who are sensitive, responsive, and attentive.
Note: Researchers are continuing to follow the children in the study as they enter ninth grade, to see whether even minor differences in development are traceable to different early child-care and family experiences.