Childcare is a hot topic in our country. And it is not only because it is typically expensive. Added to the mix are parents’ anxieties about whether it is the right thing for the child to be spending significant amounts of time with someone else rather than their mother or father. While there is plenty of evidence available that shows wide-ranging benefits from attending childcare to the child’s development, there are also criticisms that the UK government’s increasing spending on childcare is unjustified. It can be difficult for parents to make sense of various pieces of research on the topic and it is understandable that many working mothers in particular can feel guilty about going to work and leaving their child in a nursery or with a childminder for the day, even if working is an economic necessity for many families and not just a free choice they made.
The new report from the NatCen-led Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) answers a lot of questions parents may have about using childcare. It uses the highest quality data from a longitudinal survey funded by the Department for Education. This annual survey follows a cohort of children from when they were two years old, and the new report by Professor Edward Melhuish and colleagues looks at how these children were doing when they were aged three. There were just over 4,500 children included in the study at age three, and the sample was statistically representative of England.
The findings are rather reassuring for parents who are using, or have used, childcare for their children up to age three (the effect of childcare use on older children will be analysed in future SEED reports). Attendance at nurseries, pre-schools and similar settings at age two was associated with a range of improvements in children’s behaviour and emotional development at age three, and the effects were similar for children attending childminders. Going to a childminder was also associated with better language development. Spending regular amounts of time in the care of a grandparent or another relative or friend was also associated with better language development, although there were no benefits in terms of socio-emotional development.
The study did find a couple of detrimental effects from attending nurseries and other group-settings. These were in relation to conduct problems (child losing temper, taking other children’s things) and emotional self-regulation (child being calm, not impulsive) but these effects were only present for children who were at those settings for fairly long hours (over 35 hours per week – which was the case for only 3 out of 100 children in SEED), and moreover, the same children with long hours in childcare were showing benefits in terms of fewer peer problems and fewer emotional problems compared with children who were not in childcare at all at age two or who were attending for very few hours.
So, overall, the study suggests that there is a range of benefits to the child from spending regular amounts of time being cared for by early years professionals or grandparents, children benefit from childcare regardless of what sort of families they come from, but the benefits are slightly different depending on which type of carer they are with.
I am sure many parents around the country will be pleased to hear these findings. As a working mother of two girls who used a day nursery for one and a childminder for the other, I certainly was!
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