British officials released yesterday the results of a new study of childcare in the United Kingdom. The study began in 1998 and tracks 1,200 children from 3 to 51 months old. Once again, exhaustive research concludes that mothers offer their children the best possible care and that other care-giving situations are risky in terms of child well-being.
How many more studies will it take to convince people?
The research is conclusive. The British report, “one of the longest and most detailed studies of U.K. childcare,” confirmed the findings of similar long, detailed and thorough studies in the United States. Repeatedly, researchers conclude that a child does best when nurtured at home by his or her own mother and that a certain percentage (usually around 20 percent) of children who are cared for by someone else suffer social and/or emotional problems as a result.
In 2002, after three years of tracking the data and analyzing the most respected and comprehensive studies, the Beverly LaHaye Institute (BLI) reported the following. First, more than 30 hours of childcare a week can result in a child becoming aggressive, defiant and disobedient. Second, the quality of childcare does not appear to improve outcomes. And, third, the results hold true whether the children are rich or poor, male or female, and whether they are in institutionalized day care or are looked after by a relative or a nanny.
A U.S. report released in 2002 that is considered the “most comprehensive and reliable study to date” the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s (NICHD) Study of Human Child Care (SHCC) supported the BLI conclusions and reported that children of mothers who go back to work full time while their children are infants have poorer mental and verbal development. It also reported that when infants are deprived of their mother’s daily care, they fail to develop “secure attachment” and their mothers fail to develop the “necessary sensitivity” to their child’s needs.
While the British and American report findings are similar, so, too, are the media reports of those findings. United Kingdom newspaper articles follow the same pattern of reports in U.S. newspapers: Most of the column inches are taken up with defense of commercial child care.
At least this time, though, the British newspaper, The Observer, got the headline right: “Official: Babies do Best with Mother.” The first paragraph in The Observer presents the finding; then the article focuses on the “controversy” about how best to bring up children. The remainder of the article features quotes from various “child minding” associations defending institutional day care and warning that “love doesn’t necessarily produce the best childcare.” Other “day nursery” officials are quoted, saying that “78 percent of working mothers say a nursery is their ideal childcare” and that “mummy care is not necessarily the gold standard” for children.
Like their American counterparts, the British newspapers end with an appeal for federally funded childcare and an emotional warning about a “crossroads” regarding the future: because when government ignores the needs of parents, children are left to suffer.
In the United States, most children of working mothers are placed in childcare before they reach 4 months old, and they spend an average of 33 hours a week in childcare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62 percent of mothers of children under the age of 6 work outside the home, resulting in early child-care placement. In 1975, only 39 percent of mothers worked outside the home. In the NICHD report mentioned previously, 55 percent of the mothers were back to work by the child’s third month, 71 percent by the sixth month and 75 percent by the ninth month.
Since “Putting Children First” and “Leave No Child Behind” are haunting cultural refrains today, parents need to be reminded that no amount of material rewards will compensate a child for the absence of maternal nurturing. Apparently, American parents are getting the message because the most recent trend (first noted in a 2001 BLI Data Digest and substantiated in Census Reports since then) is mothers leaving the workplace to return home to take care of their children themselves.
Mothers who ignore the research findings put their children at risk. Obviously, some children are resilient enough to overcome the disadvantages and some mothers have no other option, but many parents will want to make lifestyle changes that will enable the mother to be at home with her children most of the time and away for no more than 10 hours a week. Few parents are willing to risk THEIR children becoming one of those harmed unnecessarily. It is often said that the quality, not the quantity, of time spent together is what matters most. However, when it comes to children, the quantity of time is just as important as the quality of time.
Janice Shaw Crouse is Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.
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