This morning's broadcast of the Today Show focused on a recently released study regarding the effects of daycare attendance on children's later behavior.  According to the study, which is documented in the current issue of Child Development, there is a correlation between the amount of time a child spent in daycare and the same child's behavior in sixth grade.  As reported by sixth-grade teachers, the children who spent more time in center-based child care were more likely to display problem behaviors.  The same study also noted that children who had participated in higher quality daycare before entering kindergarten received a higher vocabulary score in the fifth grade than those children receiving lower quality care.  Conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the study involving these 1,364 children, who have been tracked since birth, is the largest study of child care and development carried out in the United States.

In the tradition of wrapping up everything nice and neat with a bow, the Today Show's discussion of the topic can be summed up in a sound bite: parents choose your child care carefully.  While it is unrealistic to expect a thorough discussion of the study to be fitted into a five-minute segment, at least the information shared should avoid the trite.  Today's segment on the correlation between children's behavior and language development and time spent in daycare manages to be both naïve and trite.  Twice during the discussion, Matt Lauer commented that the cost of child care was not indicative of the quality of the care provided.  The notion that cost does not translate into quality child care ignores the fact that research has upheld that one of the best predictors of quality child care is the training received by the childcare providers.  Regardless of how or where this training is received, it is a cost that is often passed on to parents.         

The point Lauer made that it is the people who care for the children that are important, rather than the dollars paid by parents, is well taken.  Yes, the people who care for children should be nurturing and loving.  They should also be well versed in the whys and hows of child development.  Why should you speak to an infant, when he can't even talk?  Why do two-year-olds want to do everything for themselves?  How do you tell a parent that you have concerns regarding her daughter's development?  Knowledge, in distinguishing high-quality from low-quality care, does not come without a price tag.  When we demand that childcare providers offer educated care, it is only reasonable for us to expect that they will want payment and benefits commensurate with their knowledge and experience.

As is standard for morning news shows, a guest speaker in this case, child psychologist Neil Bernstein was brought aboard to highlight points of the study.  In explaining the increased vocabulary scores by those fifth graders who attended higher quality child care before kindergarten, Bernstein attributed the "constant chatter" he assumes is found in daycare classrooms as the key contributor to these results.  In another example of assumption living up to its reputation, Bernstein overlooks the emphasis placed on language development by trained childcare providers.  It is also no accident that quality childcare programs manage to actively engage children, thus minimizing the "hitting" that Bernstein marked as red flags of low-quality care.  Training, like that offered by Dr. Becky Bailey, founder of Conscious Discipline, gives childcare providers knowledge and strategies to foster positive classroom interactions.                      

Research continues to support what we have long suspected: caring for young children in daycare centers is much more than baby-sitting.  We know what children in daycare need: childcare providers trained in appropriate child development practices.  What may be more interesting is our response.  Are we ready to make the changes needed to provide all children with quality child care?  Can we make the jump from academia to reality?  Enough with the sound bites  been there, done that.

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