NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Benefits of Day Care

March 3, 2004

Poor children benefit more from center-based day care than at-home care, according to a recent study being published in the Child Development journal. With more mothers in Welfare-to-Work programs, lower-income children are spending more hours in center-based day care, with positive results.

Contrary to previous studies that concluded children in center-based day care had more behavioral problems, researchers noted that in their current study, many children were in homes where stress, instability and maternal depression were common. Moreover, in homes where an elderly person or an inattentive babysitter is caring for children, center-based day care may give children more socialization and supervision, according to Bruce Fuller, one of the study's researchers.

The study, led by Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, looked at data from 451 families with children ages 12 to 24 months in San Francisco, San Jose and Tampa. Researchers found:

  • Children in at-home family care exhibited more aggressive behavior than children in day care, although there was no difference in their learning skills.
  • Children in San Francisco and San Jose demonstrated more readiness for school.
  • Children particularly benefited when the caregivers were educated beyond high school.

Fuller recommends that federal or state policymakers who want to close achievement gaps among children would be advised not to reduce preschool programs.

Source: Melissa P. McNamara, "Research on Day Care Finds Few Timeouts," New York Times, February 10, 2004; based upon Susanna Loeb et al., "Child Care in Poor Communities: Early Learning Effects of Type, Quality, and Stability," Child Development, Volume 75, Issue 1, January 2004.


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