Within this paper, an examination of factors related to daycare for preschool children in the U.S. will be presented. As working parents have increasingly had to rely on daycare as an option for child care and as a means for insuring that they were able to maintain employment and wages for their families, the information provided offers an analysis of daycare services and their potential influence on developmental outcomes for children. An effort is made within the paper to discuss current findings on daycare in relation to conceptualizations of child development, including Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, Mahler's individuation/separation theory, Montessori's theory of environment/activities theory, and Bandura's social learning theory.
According to information provided by the U.S. Bureau of Census, between 1977 and 1994, there has been an increase in the number of working mothers using daycare centers for their preschoolers, from 13% to 29%. On the basis of data from the 1997 National Survey on America's Families, as reported by Capizzano, Adams and Sonenstein (2000), nationwide a large percentage (76%) of preschool children with employed mothers are regularly cared for by someone other than their parents. For more than half of preschool children with employed mothers, the primary child care provider is not related to the child. Thirty-two percent of children are in center-based child care arrangements, while about half as many (16%) are in family child care. A relatively small percentage of children (6%) are regularly cared for by a baby-sitter or nanny in the child's home.
In contrast, as reported by Capizzano et al. (2000), less than half of preschool children with employed mothers are cared for primarily by relatives or by parents. Twenty-three percent of preschool children have a relative as the primary child care provider -- 9% in the child's home and 14% in the home of the relative -- while 24% of children are in parent care.
According to Capizzano et al. (2000), working parents are faced with making choices about child care arrangement and most make such decisions on the basis of the age of the child. As noted by the authors, parents also consider that preschool children of different ages have varying developmental needs, and certain forms of child care are often more readily available for children in particular age groups. Therefore, Capizzano and colleagues examined separately the types of child care arrangements made by working parents for infants and toddlers and the choices made for three- and four-year-olds.
On the basis of their examination, Capizzano et al. (2000) found that infants and toddlers are most often cared for by with relatives and in parent care, while three- and four-year-olds are more often found in center-based arrangements. Among infants and toddlers, 27% are in relative care and another 27% are in parent care, while smaller proportions are found in center-based care (22%) and family child care (17%). Among the older preschoolers, relative and parent care are used less often as primary arrangements (17% and 18% of the children, respectively), while more three- and four-year-olds are found in center-based care (i.e., daycare) than in any other arrangement (45%). Similar to infants and toddlers, only 14% of three- and four-year-olds have family child care as their primary arrangement.
Daycare and Children's Development
As utilization of daycare has increased over the past several decades, questions have also arisen as to how and the degree to which a child's development is affected by the quality of child care services available to working parents. As parents and child care professionals have learned, determining high quality daycare can be difficult; however, few disagree that daycare programs should enhance the development of children rather than place them at risk for current and/or future developmental problems. A number of developmental theories on child development exist, including Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, Mahler's separation theory, Montessori's theory of development, and Bandera's social learning theory. Efforts to evaluate daycare programs and their effectiveness in facilitating and supporting children's development may be further aided in examining such programs on the basis of recommendations found within these theories.
While it has been documented that most children from most daycare settings do not experience behavioral difficulties as a result of their daycare experiences (Lamb & Steinberg, 1990) and that daycare settings have been found to increase children's social adaptability (NICHD Early, Child Care Research Network, 1997), it still remains important to consider and evaluate the degree to which particular daycare programs may place a child at risk for developmental and behavioral problems. Therefore, major findings associated with daycare will now be reviewed and analyzed as to their effectiveness in facilitating and supporting child development.
Timing of Daycare Experience
As evidenced within the literature, a number of researchers have been interested in determining the influence of the amount and timing of daycare experience on children's development (e.g., Bates et al., 1994; Belsky & Eggebeen, 1991; Hegland & Rix, 1990; Honig & Park, 1993; Schindler et al., 1987; DiLalla, 1998). On the basis of such research, concern has arisen in regards to the potential for placement in early daycare to lead to poorer relationships between children and their mothers (e.g., Belsky & Eggebeen, 1991). Others however have suggested that early placement in daycare may operate to enhance cognitive and social behaviors and skills (DiLalla, 1998; Schindler et al., 1987). In a study of two daycare centers, Schindler and colleagues found that time spent in daycare helped to increase social play. However, when the researchers attempted to replicate the study in a third daycare center, the findings were not supported, suggesting that the presence of certain qualities within daycare programs may influence social behavior rather than timing in daycare. Rather than finding similar positive findings, Honig and Park reported that children who had been in daycare longer received higher ratings of instrumental, physical, and verbal aggression. Bates et al. found that children who experienced more early daycare tended to show more negative and less positive adjustment as rated by teachers and peers. However, as Bates et al. study help to clarify, there may be other factors that operate in a child's life that counter influence the potential positive impact of daycare, including low family SES (leading to more negative behavioral adjustment) and gender (with boys having a harder time adjusting to kindergarten).
While Hegland and Rix (1990) found no significant difference in aggressive behaviors when comparing children who had been attending daycare to children with no daycare experience, DeLalla (1998) reported that daycare experiences do not increase children's prosocial behaviors with peers, and may even decrease them. As reported by DeLalla, the most prosocial children in her study were those who had never attended daycare. However, on the basis of DeLalla's findings, daycare experiences had no effect on children's aggressive behaviors, even though it was found that children who tend to be highly active, more intense, and more distractible are likely to show decreased prosocial behaviors in an unfamiliar setting with an unknown peer.
On the basis of these findings, it would appear that what is known about the impact of timing and amount of time spent in daycare remain ambiguous. When evaluating these findings on the basis of child development theories, it would appear that the development of prosocial vs. aggressive behaviors in relation to daycare helps to illuminate Erickson's stance as to the major conflicts children face during the first three stages of development (i.e., trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, and initiative vs. guilt). As Erikson emphasized, unsuccessful efforts to resolve these conflicts can lead to psychosocial developmental delays. Similarly, on the basis of Mahler's theory, the findings may suggest that daycare does not provide children with the experiences they need to successfully navigate efforts at individuation while attempting to establish a healthy sense of self in relation to the larger world. As well, when considering these findings in relation to Montessori's theory of development, one would have to question whether the environment of daycare centers is such that it truly encourages and provides opportunities for children to gain a sense of trust regarding their own skills. Finally, from a social learning perspective, these findings appear to suggest that the learning environment within daycare settings is not that which truly reinforces and encourages prosocial behaviors nor operates to provide children with adequate learning models for discouraging appropriate behaviors.
Quality of Daycare Services
Another important area related to and important for further examination when considering the impact of daycare on child development focuses on the quality of daycare services offered. Research conducted in this area has suggested that the implementation of certain daycare practices and the creation of particular environments can lead to better outcomes for children (Frede, 1995; NICHD, 1998). However, as noted by Patton and Ricks (2000), there is little evidence that suggests that high quality daycare services cause positive effects. Overall, as noted by Patton and Ricks, prior research on the quality of daycare services has led to the general conclusion that other factors…