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Choosing Child Care? Quality Counts

Photos: Dan Rahn

Positive interaction with providers is an important part of quality child care.
When a national study found children in day care more likely to show signs of aggression, much of the media coverage depicted child care as a breeding ground for violence.

But Diane Bales, an Extension Service child development specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences, thinks the study findings weren't as cut-and-dried as the media portrayed them.

"The quality is the biggest concern," Bales said. "Look for a child care where the workers are open with parents. It's also good when the providers want to know about a child's likes and dislikes and then respond to those needs."

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study involved 1,300 children. Researchers found that about 17 percent of children in child care more than 30 hours a week show signs of aggression.

Many Positive Effects

But that percentage isn't particularly high, Bales said. And it isn't different for children in child care than for all children. So it's not certain that the aggression is related to the child care. And some of the study's findings suggest that high-quality child care has many positive effects on children.

Many U.S. parents send their kids to child care every day. So it's important to focus on the positive things, Bales said, that can be gained from child care and ways it can be improved.

When evaluating their child's care, she said, it's important for parents to remember the study's findings:

Photo: Dan Rahn

Quality child care revolves around the children.

• The quality of child care matters. Children in high-quality care aren't as aggressive and tend to have higher language and thinking skills than children in lower-quality care.

Smaller adult-to-child ratios are better. Your child's care provider needs to be sensitive and responsive to children and child-centered in their beliefs.

The care system should revolve around the children. The child's needs should be top priority. The best settings are ones that provide stimulation and teach a child how to solve problems.

• Hearing language helps build language. By reading, singing and interacting with your children, you help them develop language skills. Watching a lot of television can possibly lower your children's language skills. So be careful of the amount of time they spend in front of the TV.

• Parents play the most important role in a child's development. If children receive loving care at home, they're less likely to show problem behavior in school or child care. A parent who is warm and responsive to a child's needs, who spends time interacting with him or her and who sets consistent limits is an important asset for any child.

When the study was first released, one of the investigators recommended that parents and especially mothers cut back on their work outside of the home.

Other researchers have since stepped forward, saying that his recommendations were not based on the study's findings but on his personal beliefs.

Many parents have no choice when it comes to placing youngsters in child care, Bales said. What they can do is be conscious of the quality of care their child receives.

(Amanda Bridges is a human development intern with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

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