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Quality Child Care Leads to Smarter Teens

Study Also Links High-Quality Child Care With Fewer Behavioral Problems in Teens
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 14, 2010 -- The effects of early child care may be more long-lasting than commonly believed, according to a new study.

At age 15, teens who had high-quality child care in their early years performed better on academic and cognitive tests than did other teens, and they had fewer adolescent behavior problems, says study leader Deborah Lowe Vandell, PhD, professor and chair of education at the University of California, Irvine.

''We think a lot of people expect the effects of early child care would fade away by age 15," Vandell tells WebMD. "We found they didn't. Children who were in early high-quality child care did better academically and cognitively at age 15, compared to other children in the study."

Teens with a quality child care background also had fewer problem behaviors, such as breaking rules, hanging out with kids who get into trouble, and arguing, the researchers found.

The study is published in the journal Child Development.

Effects of Child Care: Study Details

The new findings add to previous research on the same group of about 1,300 children, born in 10 cities across the U.S. in 1991 and followed up over the years. The study is the National Institute of Child Health and Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

In previous reports, Vandell and her colleagues found that children who had early, high-quality child care did better academically and cognitively at grade 5.

"What we also found in previous reports is that children who attended child care for more hours displayed more acting out in early childhood."

The researchers rated the quality of a child care program by observing, noting the caregivers' behavior with the children, and evaluating how sensitive and responsive they were to the child's needs, among other measures.

Vandell and her team then collected the results of standardized school tests measuring achievement and cognition and collected information from the teens, their families, and school personnel.

At the age 15 follow-up, results were obtained for 70% of the original participants.

The backgrounds of the children were diverse, including middle class and low income, two-parent families, and single-parent families.

In the study, Vandell says, "90% had some type of child care experience. It could be preschool, nursery school, child care in the home, home care by babysitters, or nannies. The hours varied, from seven to about 60 [weekly]."

Only 41% had child care classified as high or moderately high quality.

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