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  Home  > Child/Family Wellness  > Myth: Daycare Is Harmless and Able to Meet the Needs of Infants and Young Children.

Myth: Daycare Is Harmless and Able to Meet the Needs of Infants and Young Children.

Fact: Daycare, whether rendered by the most prestigious university center or ordinary down-the-street care, usually means caregiver roulette--frequently changing caregivers are today endemic to millions of young children. This discontinuity of care is disturbing primarily because it affects the ability of children to trust their primary caregivers. This in turn affects their ability to relate to others, to learn, to develop an optimistic orientation to life, and to become responsive and responsible members of society. Substitute care can provide appropriate nurturing--but most substitute care, as it is now, does not. Concerns are for both the consistency and the quality of care provided.

The research on substitute care is disturbing. Studies show, for example, that even in the better daycare centers, the turnover rate of caregivers exceeds 40 percent a year. Ninety percent of all infant and toddler facilities fail to meet minimum standards. Institutional daycare offers advantages to adults that have nothing to do with the needs of our infants. There is a strong link between high caregiver turnover and a whole range behaviors, from poor school performance, delinquent behavior, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, to difficulty in establishing intimacy--children deprived of love have difficulty experiencing love. The years that children spend in sub-par daycare is likely a major cause of the largest rise in the incidence of child violence and depression that experts in mental health have ever seen. The same report cited above refers to the problem as a "silent crisis largely unacknowledged by the American public" as it blindly engages in "self-deception about childcare quality so great that it could be deemed societal neglect." This crisis carries with it profound costs in human and economic terms.

While it appears that non-maternal care has little negative impact of the cognitive skills of the child, providing the care is of high quality--an estimated 5 percent of the daycare available--an across-the-board review shows that emotional, social, and behavioral measurements were significantly higher for children in maternal care. In fact, the type of non-maternal care was irrelevant--whether babies were cared for by daycare centers, babysitters, or older siblings, those in non-maternal care (even high quality daycare) scored lower on behavioral and emotional scales than those being cared for by their mother. Children feel a greater attachment to parents, and most parents feel a more intense investment in, and commitment to, the child. Interestingly, boys fare more poorly than girls in daycare.

Children's early relationships with primary caregivers are particularly profound because they shape--very literally--the neurochemistry of emotion and their entire nervous system, including the brain. This means that whenever possible, at least one of the parents should serve as primary caregiver at least during the child's pre-verbal years.

At the absolute minimum, I suggest three to six months of parental care in the period after birth. This is the mandatory period anyone needs to develop parenting skills, to bond with the baby, and to influence the infant brain as only a parent can. —Thomas R. Verny

Having said this, Verny also believes that children in non-parental care need not be damaged. If parents remain aware of their children's emotional and neurological requirements--a primary one being quality and consistency of care- and consistently and lovingly compensate inevenings, weekends, or whenever they can, things should "be fine."

In the Hindu and Taoist traditions, it is believed the umbilical cord connecting mother and child has an energy that flows between the two, nourishing both through the early years of the child's development.

Univ. of Colorado, Denver.Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers 2nd Ed. (Denver: Univ. of Colorado: Denver, Economics Department, 1995): p. 26

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