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Infant Child Care and Attachment
There is much concern about how infant child care will affect a child's emotional attachment to his parents and shape his future behavioral profile. Concerns around the effects of infant child care on the nature of a child's attachment to its parents and on the child's future behavioral profile bear particular relevance at a time when the traditional family unit has evolved to include the likelihood of two working parents. Increasing numbers of infants are enrolled into some form of daycare at earlier and earlier stages in their lives, prompting renewed examination of the possible impact on both the child's parental attachment and his future socialization. Recent debate has focused on the possibility that children enrolled in out-of-home child care as infants are at risk for later social and emotional development (Belsky, 1988; Clarke-Stewart, 1988).
In assessing the role of infant child care on attachment and on the child's behavioral outcome, a series of variables render the exact effects difficult to predict with any initial certainty. These mitigating factors include the extent of the non-maternal care, its quality and the nature of the family's own care-giving. This suggests, with the inclusion of the impact of family dynamics, that the role of infant daycare will be difficult to assess in isolation. A more inclusive investigation of the multiple factors at work in a single child's experience of care offers a clearer picture of the types of predictions we can make about her projected socio-emotional development.
Exploration of the impact of infant daycare on attachment begs a definition of that attachment with reference to the relationship between infant and parent.
What is the biological or evolutionary purpose of the attachment phenomenon? It has been suggested that one of the characteristic behavioral systems that define us as human beings, is that concerned with our survival, i.e. The reproduction, care and protection of our young. Attachment is in biological support of the protection and survival of infants.
How does it manifest itself? Some types of attachment behavior are: exploratory behavior, crying, absence of crying; protest; proximity to mother; avoidance of mother; distress in brief, everyday separations from the mother; and fear in encountering a stranger (Ainsworth viii).
What, then, is the basis for studies around the impact of infant daycare on a child's socialization or emotional development? Educationalists, child psychologists, parents and child development researches are concerned with the potentially negative impact of maternal employment on infant attachment, drawing attention away from the daycare environment itself, and resting the focus on the child's experience of an unavailable maternal figure.
Studies of the effects of maternal employment form the primary research base for the assertion that infant child care constitutes risk for children" (Howes 1989).
A child's attachment to its caregivers is assessed in terms of security. According to William Blatz's Security Theory (1996), a secure attachment to caregivers engenders confidence in a child, facilitating and promoting his exploration of the world around him, and ensures that in the event of anxiety or discomfort, the child will return to the security of the foundation provided by those caregivers. Insecurity, in this attachment, often results in the infant's reluctance to explore at all: the child is not confident that its caregivers will be consistently available when needed. (Ainsworth ix)
Mary Ainsworth developed, through a series of research experiments, a theory for the assessment of the nature of a child's attachment. In her expression of the infant's experience of the world, she developed the 'strange situation', i.e. A scenario or that is unfamiliar to an infant. Through the manipulation of this environment, she endeavored to monitor the child's reaction to the relative 'strangeness' of his environment with the added and crucial variable of maternal-accompaniment vs. The presence of a friendly non-maternal caregiver. The sequence of experiences induced for the infant was fixed and repetitive: a one-year-old and her mother are introduced into an unfamiliar or 'strange' playroom full of toys; a little while later, an adult stranger is introduced to the room; then, the infant is left alone in the company of the stranger; then, mother and child are reunited; then the mother is removed and the child is left alone; the stranger is re-introduced. The experiment concludes with the return of the mother.
Ainsworth's scenario, an obvious simulation of the daycare experience, was shown in sixteen recent studies to demonstrate that infants with mothers who worked full-time were more likely to exhibit an insecure maternal attachment relationship compared with infants whose mothers worked part-time or not at all. (Belsky, 1988; Clarke-Stewart, 1988).
Simplifying the examination of the impact of infant care to a study of the link between attachment and daycare precludes the assessment of the nature of that daycare. The quality and the duration of the daycare environment are considerable variables in the assessment of its projected influence on a child, and Ainsworth's establishment of a generic 'strange' environment excludes this fundamental variability.
How then is the quality of daycare measured - or indeed the quality of any childcare, parental or otherwise? Once this has been examined, the relationship between these care scenarios must also be investigated if we are to arrive at a fair assessment of the genuine impact of infant daycare on the emotional and social development of a child.
In a Belsky, Rovine and Taylor study entitled "The Pennsylvania Infant and Family Development Project III: The Origins of Individual Differences in Infant-Mother Attachment," it is asserted that mothers who are both responsive and sensitive, who respond consistently and appropriately to a child's social bids and initiate interactions geared to the child's aptitudes, capacities, inclinations, ambitions and personal developmental level are most likely to raise children with secure maternal attachments (Belsky, Rovine, and Taylor, 1984). Is this ideal form of care and its optimum effect on infant attachment security exclusive to the mother as caregiver? It has been confirmed that infants experience attachments to their caregivers (Howes, Rodning, Galuzzo, and Myers, 1988). Also, that the quality of the child's attachment to the mother does not predict the quality of the child's attachment to the alternative caregiver (Howes and others, 1988). In other words, the optimum secure attachment can be formed between a caregiver and an infant in the absence of such a secure attachment to a maternal figure. It follows, subsequently, that the quality of a child's experience of daycare or alternative care giving can indeed establish a secure enough attachment relationship to improve rather than inhibit that child's experience of the world and his or her emotional and social development.
An important issues is whether guidelines have been established for the construction of quality, nurturing, positive-impact daycare facilities? Phillip and Howes (Phillips, 1987) identified three areas of quality in daycare set-ups:
Structural features: number of children, staff-child ratios, training level of caregivers, equipment, space.
Dynamic aspects: experiences and interactions.
Contextual features: staff stability, staff turnover, atmosphere / setting.
Structural features were found in the National Day Care Study (Roupp, Travers, Glantz and Coelen, 1979) had considerable effects on the manifest well-being of the infants in the day care settings that formed part of the sample. Dynamic features, the quality and frequency of interactions between the care-givers and the children, were seen to have a profound effect on self-esteem, physical and cognitive abilities (Bredekamp, 1986). It was seen, however, that contextual features are perhaps the most potent at work in the definition of quality childcare: Child outcomes depend less on the form of care than on characteristics of the setting (Phillips, 1987, Clarke-Stewart and Fein, 1984).
If the quality or nature of the daycare experience is a potent enough variable to skew studies into the impact of infant daycare on a child's attachment and projected personal development, then surely the focus of such investigations needs to be mitigated by other variables present in the mix. (For example, the quality and experience of familial care giving.) The child's response to unfamiliar environments as well as caregivers is said to be determined by the nature of the child's maternal attachment (Ainsworth). Surely, then, the child's ability to cope with the daycare scenario, his ability to grow with the experience rather than to be adversely affected by it, is subject to his home care and the attendant security of his parental attachment? It is difficult to discern a home-care formula that makes for secure attachment in children; however it has been suggested that:
single, adolescent and low-income families are subject to stress (Ainslie, 1984) families under stress spend less time and resources identifying daycare options, need longer hours of that daycare and use generally poorer quality daycare (Phillips, 1987)
Inherent in a child's experience of her home environment is the absorption of parental stresses, and these are not limited to the more problematic stress factors around finance and 'dysfunctionality'. A mother's work status has a potent effect on her stress levels if it doesn't correspond with her desired work status.
In other words, an at-home mother may experience and demonstrate high…[continue]
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