Caring for the Un-Cared For

Quality of child care is more important for kids from disadvantaged homes

(RxWiki News) A new study supports results from previous studies that show how the quality of child care and home environments impact the social and emotional health of a child.

According to decades of research, children from disadvantaged homes who also receive low-quality child care are more likely to develop social and emotional problems than those from better home environments who receive high-quality care. However, this recent study shows that some of the negative effects of a disadvantaged home can be alleviated by high-quality care.

Not all children are fortunate to have loving parents and a comfortable home environment. An estimated 463,000 children were living in foster care in 2008. Foster homes are notoriously difficult living environments. Another recent study shows that children living in difficult living environments such as foster homes have more behavioral problems than their peers in kinship care (the care of a non-parent relative). However, kinship care is often difficult for children as well. Children in kinship care are still likely to have more behavioral problems than those in comfortable living environments.

Researchers from the University of Denver, Gerogetown University, American University, Harvard University, and Auburn University studied children aged 2 to 4.5 years who come from difficult home environments and receive lower-quality child care. A difficult family environment was defined as a home with few resources, few learning opportunities, and a family that shows less sensitivity and acceptance of their child. Lower-quality child care was defined by less learning opportunities, caregivers who used negative or neutral facial expressions and tone of voice, in addition to the use of insensitive responses.

Directed by Sarah Enos Watamura, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Denver, researchers found that children from difficult home environments who received low-quality child care were more prone to social and emotional issues, compared to children from advantaged home environments but who also received low-quality child care. For example, those who had both poor child care and home environments were more likely to feel anxious or fearful; to be disruptive or aggressive; and to be less helpful, friendly, or open to their peers.

The researchers also found that high-quality child care can make up for some of the negative impacts of a disadvantaged home environment. The authors hypothesize that the high-quality child care offers children an opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment, thus protecting them from developing the social and emotional problems of their peers in low-quality child care.

According to Watamura, her team's findings are consistent with evidence from previous studies that suggest that the quality of child care may be more important for children from difficult home environments. She adds that the study's results also highlight the need for integrating early intervention strategies across both home and child care settings.

The study appears in the January/February issue of Child Development.

Review Date: 
February 8, 2011