The impact of child care on children’s development is both complex and controversial. Research findings since the 1980s demonstrate the important impact of child care experiences on children’s development. Indeed, consensus has now emerged among investigators that child care quality is linked to the well-being, skills, and subsequent adjustment of young children. Yet, no such consensus has been reached on the influence of quantity of exposure to child care during the early years.
Findings from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, the most comprehensive, longitudinal study in the United States of the relationships between child care experiences and children’s development, will inform the discussion and debate on child care and children’s development. As reviewed by Belsky in his Commentary, the NICHD study reports that children with greater exposure to nonmaternal care during the first 4 1/2 years of life were rated by their preschool and kindergarten teachers as more aggressive, assertive, and defiant than same-age children with less exposure. Researchers are now speculating as to the implications of such findings. Belsky, a member of the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, argues that quantity does indeed count. Other researchers (and Network members) are more cautious in their interpretation, citing the lack of clinical significance of ratings of problematic behaviors, the partially mediating influence of quality of care on quantity effects, and the more positive effects of exposure on peer interactions.
The Journal is pleased to advance the discourse (and debate) on this important topic by publishing this solicited Commentary. We have invited a response to this Commentary for subsequent publication from another expert in this field. We encourage readers to review the publications now emerging from the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. As always, we welcome readers’ thoughts and responses.