NYT's 'Motherlode' gets it right on day care coverage

The latest study on whether time spent in day care impacts older kids’ behavior reveals that it doesn’t.

If this is surprising to you, it shouldn’t be. And if you didn’t hear about the study, that’s not surprising, either.

So writes KJ Dell’Antonia  in the Motherlode column "Day care and behavior problems, unlinked" in today’s New York Times. The column addresses the fascinating debate that always surrounds day care and working parents, and whether either are good or bad for kids. Dell’Antonia also makes  the oh-so-true point that often times “day care might be bad for kids” studies make the headlines and get all the attention, while “day care is fine for kids” studies sink like a stone without notice.

In the new study that Dell’Antonia cites, researchers from Norway, Harvard and Boston College find that “Time spent in day care doesn’t link to problems for older children – at least, not when that day care time is separated from the socio-political context in which the care is provided,” writes Dell’Antonia.

The team, which examined “the varied research that sporadically associates an increase in hours in day care with increased behavior problems, noted that the work was all based on child-care studies done in the United States. And the United States, they argue, is a lousy place to study the impact of early child care on children.”

The researchers found that if you compare a country like Norway, you see a very different perception on day care and it’s effect on kids. Writes Dell'Antonia:

In Norway, where day care is subsidized, of a reasonably consistent quality, and an expected part of childhood (in 2009, 79 percent of all 1- to 2-year-olds, and 97 percent of all 3- to 5-year-olds attended publicly subsidized center care there), researchers found little evidence that more time in day care could be associated with “externalizing problems” like defiance and restlessness, in 3-year-olds (a result they hope to confirm in older children).

In other words, when all the energy that goes into debating the merits of day care is put, instead, into ensuring that day care is of a high quality and available to everyone, then any association between time spent in that care and poor behavior essentially disappears.

So ultimately, we Americans spend way too much time talking about the negatives of day care, when we should be spending more time figuring out how to do day care right.

The entire column is worth a read here, and kudos to Dell’Antonio for bringing it to our attention.