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Thursday, July 25, 2002

Researchers Document Behavioral and Intellectual Dangers
By Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., Senior Fellow
and Anne Stover, Intern

Irrefutable evidence continues to mount that working mothers put their children at risk when they depend too much on childcare. In three years of tracking the data and analyzing the most respected and comprehensive studies, the Beverly LaHaye Institute has reported that: (1) More than 30 hours of childcare a week can result in a child becoming aggressive, defiant and disobedient, (2) The quality of childcare does not appear to improve outcomes and the results hold true whether the children are rich or poor, male or female, or whether they are in institutionalized day care or are looked after by a relative or a nanny. (3) Now, a new report – called the most comprehensive and reliable study to date – indicates that the children of mothers who go back to work full time while their children are infants have poorer mental and verbal development.

This distressing news comes at a time when most childcare centers are redefining themselves as learning centers. The new labeling caters to the parental desire to give a child every advantage to reach his or her potential. Sadly for career women who bought into the false promises of “professional” and “high-quality” early childhood education, the latest research confirms the conventional wisdom that nothing can replace a mother’s nurturing for infants and children.

The new study just released by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Human Child Care confirms the fact that children, especially infants and toddlers, need their mother’s daily care. When deprived at a young age, infants fail to develop secure attachment and mothers fail to develop the necessary sensitivity to their child’s needs.

Specifically, the new study found that working mothers are hindering their child’s ability to learn by placing them in alternative care-giving situations. “What we found was that when mothers worked more than 30 hours by the time their children were 9 months old, those children, on average, did not do well on school-readiness tests when they were 3 years old,” said Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of Columbia’s Teachers College and the lead author of the study. The study found that 3-year olds from an average home environment and in average-quality childcare, whose mother did not work by the ninth month, scored in the fiftieth percentile on the Bracken School Readiness test. This test assesses children’s knowledge of colors, letters, numbers, shapes, and comparisons. Children in similar settings whose mothers were employed by the ninth month, scored in the forty-fourth percentile. Furthermore, the study finds that a higher use of childcare fosters less harmonious child-mother interaction, more reported problem behaviors when children reach age 2, and a higher probability of insecure attachment in infants of mothers low in sensitivity.

More hours of care in the first 6 months of a child’s life were associated with lower maternal sensitivity and lower child positive engagement at 36 months. Toddlers in longer hours of childcare were slightly less engaged with their mothers, than toddlers who were not in childcare. Mothers can only learn sensitivity to their child’s needs and wants after spending considerable amounts of time with them on a daily basis. Mothers and children cannot develop a bond to one another when they are apart from each other.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62 percent of mothers of children under the age of 6 works outside of the home, resulting in early child care placement. In 1975, only 39 percent of mothers worked outside of the home. Furthermore, according to the “Ask a Working Woman” Survey 2002 by the AFL-CIO, 68 percent of working mothers put in 40 or more hours per week – compared with 60 percent of women without children. The NICHD report finds that in the families studied, 55 percent of the mothers were working by the third month, 71 percent by the sixth month, and 75 percent by the ninth month. Most children are placed in childcare prior to 4 months old, and spend an average of 33 hours in childcare a week.

Instead of spending time with their mothers, these children are left in childcare centers that do not give them the adequate undivided attention that they need. The study reports that most childcare center classrooms do not meet all four recommended guidelines – for child-staff ratios, group sizes, teacher training, and teacher education. The bottom line is simple: The best environment to foster a child’s intellectual development is one in which his or her mother is actively involved on a day-to-day basis; the best environment is the home.

In her book Planning Your Future: A Guide for Professional Women, Janet L. Srarbek argues the common refrain: that women who are, or are considering becoming working mothers, need to analyze their circumstances and beliefs to determine what is right for them. The new studies indicate that is the wrong question. Instead, we need to analyze the circumstances and ask, “What is right for the child?” In a culture where people are constantly hearing the refrains, “Putting Children First” and “Leave No Child Behind,” we need to be reminded that the individual, undivided interaction that a mother can give her child is vital to her child’s early intellectual and emotional development. The attachment between a mother and her child cannot develop when the child is not in her daily care.

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 options, but many parents will want to make lifestyle changes that will enable the mother to be at home with the children most of the time and away for no more than 10 hours a week. Few parents are willing to risk THEIR child becoming one of those harmed unnecessarily. It is often said that the quality of time, 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, Ph.D. BLI’s Senior Fellow, is a member of the DC-Based Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking, the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Task Force Against Abuse of Women and Children and Concerned Women for America’s policy director for sexual trafficking issues. Anne Stover, a Senior at Asbury College, is a summer intern at the Beverly LaHaye Institute.

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