Daycare Is a) Good, b) Bad, c) Necessary

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My mornings are a blur of diapers and sippy cups and tupperware tins of strawberries and meatballs packed in a ladybug backpack. In other words, I’m readying my kid for her day at daycare. So it was with approximately 7% focus that I saw this headline in my local paper:

“Poor Behavior Is Linked to Time in Day Care”

Great. Just great. And good morning to you, you ink-stained piece of bird-cage lining.

The good news continued:

A report from the largest, longest-running study of American child care has found that keeping a preschooler in a day care center a year or more increased the likelihood that the child would become disruptive in class–and that the effect persisted through sixth grade. The finding held up regardless of the child’s sex or family income, or the quality of the day care center.

My husband likes to blare news radio in the bathroom, and as I walked past, I heard this snippet:

“…and more good news for working parents: children in daycare were also found to have higher vocabulary scores.”

Hah? Could it be two studies were released the same day–one pro-daycare, one anti?

No. It turns out both news items referred to the same study, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The study’s web site says it tracked about 1,300 children–some who stayed home with a parent, others cared for by a nanny or a relative, still others attending a day care center. It followed the subjects through phases, including when they reached school, where it relied on teacher ratings to assess behaviors.

I haven’t slogged through the whole study yet, but as far as I can tell, the results were fairly mixed. That became clear upon reading the newspaper story, too; in fact, in paragraph two, it read,

The effect was slight, and well within the normal range for healthy children, the researchers found. And as expected, parents’ guidance and their genes had by far the strongest influence on how children behaved.

The study came up in our morning meeting, where one of my editors expressed frustration with the media’s dramatic interpretation of the study. (That’s right–we in the media can gripe about “the media” too.)

Back at my desk, I Googled “daycare study,” and found this headline, from The Telegraph in the U.K.:

“Babies thrive in formal child care”

Oh, come on, now. This actually was a different study, conducted in England released just a few weeks ago. The story says:

Babies who attend formal child care, such as day nurseries, at the tender age of nine months are better behaved and less likely to experience a wide range of developmental problems at the age of three than the average child, according to new Government-funded research today.

The findings, in The State of the Modern Family report, will come as a relief to thousands of middle-class mothers who use nurseries within a year of giving birth so they can return to work. There are now more than 500,000 children in group day care.

The U.K.’s so-called Sure Start program apparently is pushing for more day-care centers; the number of families using formal child care there has jumped from 31% in 2001 to 41% in 2004.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it. Stop telling me the way I raise my baby sucks when I don’t have another alternative. Stop attacking me with your opinions on breastfeeding, potty training and appropriate levels of Dora the Explorer consumption. Stop it–just stop it with these ulcer-triggering studies that just make me want to karate chop the authors. I’m not frontin’. I’m a brown belt, you know. I’d have my black belt by now if I weren’t rushing from office to home to raise and support my family.

We’ve got to do something, working moms and dads. Stage a rally, maybe. Preferably a sit-in, with decaf and donuts. Are you with me?

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