Child care choices persist into adolescence

Last month, a study about early child care came out with mixed results – one good for day care, and one bad. I decided to go back and take a look at how the news media covered the story. I have a bias: I think that we in the media reflect the American public's ongoing discomfort with the choices that dual-income families must make. Even though, at 46 percent of homes with children, dual-income households are becoming the norm. As I say, the study came up with good and bad findings. One of the biggest long-term projects of its kind, the University of California-Irvine study quizzed 15-year-olds who had been in day care as little ones. The study found that the teens who had attended "high-quality" day care did better in school than even those kids who stayed home. But the study also found that all day-care kids, regardless of the quality of care, were slightly more likely to take risks.

Is that a bad thing? Apparently, in teenagers it is. When we think of teens and risk, we think “drugs” and “sex.” Although, adult risk-takers, like inventors and money managers, are often highly compensated for such.

Anyway…. The results: My quick Nexis search turned up six neutral headlines, such as this one from States News Service, “Link between child care and academic achievement and behavior persists into adolescence.”

Five headlines gave a positive spin, like this from the Dayton Daily News: “Quality care in childhood pays off, study says.”

And seven headlines played up the negative. Here, from the Chicago Tribune, “Study: Day care kids show rash behavior as teens.”

I’m going to conclude that my bias at the outset was a little rash. This is fairly even-handed coverage – and good news for those of us who care about such things.

I also found the description of what constitutes high-quality child care to be illuminating, and cause for optimism. I remember looking for this description right after the study was published in mid-May, but I didn’t find anything this complete. I wonder if UCI updated it. No matter, here is study director Deborah Lowe Vandell’s take:

Q: How do you define a “high-quality” child care setting? ?A: It’s one where caregivers are warm, loving, sensitive, respectful and responsive to children’s needs. There should also be cognitive stimulation, with teachers talking and reading to children. If a child is wandering or getting into conflicts with other children, caregivers should find ways to intervene. If children are busy and engaged, however, caregivers should not interrupt or intrude.

What do you think? What's your observation about how child care affects kids? Does your child care measure up to this standard?