There was an article yesterday in the Guardian about the stress levels of children who are placed in daycare compared with those who were cared for at home (article reproduced below).
What I want to know is, when does this kind of group care become less stressful?
Do these results still occur in children who start school at 4/5 years old?
Is this why classroom management is getting harder and harder as more of our teenagers were sent to daycare as babies?
The Guardian, Saturday 8 May 2010
I am acutely aware that those readers who have placed their under-threes in daycare (group care in nurseries) will not find this column easy reading, so let me make two important provisos. Nothing you are about to read is in any way critical of working mothers. I am strongly in favour of those who wish to, as long as the substitute care is adequate. It should never be forgotten that all the problems I am about to describe are just as common among children raised at home by depressed mothers: so long as the substitute care is good, it's much better for her child that a mother works than gets depressed at home.
Second, as far as we know, most children in daycare do not suffer ill-effects. So just because it has been your chosen method does not mean it has created problems.
The story starts with cortisol, the hormone we secrete when faced with threat, leading to "fight or flight". Its levels were measured in 70 15-month-old children at home before they had ever been to daycare. Compared with this, the levels had doubled within an hour of the mother leaving them in daycare on the first, fifth and ninth days. Measured again five months later, while no longer double, they were still significantly elevated compared with the home baseline.
When at home, under-threes' cortisol levels usually drop during the course of the day, but in daycare, nine studies show that they rise. While high-quality daycare does moderate this, they still do rise even under those conditions, and the fact is that the vast majority of daycare provision is low or medium quality in America, only 9% is high quality; something similar is true here.
The effect appears to be lasting. When cortisol is measured at age 15, the longer a child was in daycare when small, the higher its levels. As high cortisol has been shown many times to be a correlate of all manner of problems, this is bad news.
In particular, it may help to explain why children who were in daycare when under three are so much more likely to be aggressive and disobedient. The definitive study of the subject showed that this was true of only 6% of children largely raised at home, rising steadily as the number of hours per week in non-maternal care increased, to 25% of children spending more than 45 hours a week away from mother.
In America, where daycare is widespread, it looks possible that it is increasing classroom problems. A study of 3,440 children from 282 primary schools showed that children who were home-reared were significantly worse behaved the greater the proportion of their classmates who had been in daycare: they seemed to be led to misbehave by the greater misbehaviour of their daycared peers. Other studies also suggest that daycare increases the risk of insecurity in relationships.
On the positive side, daycare can benefit the academic performance of children from low-income homes and, when combined with parent-infant therapy, can even improve such children's emotional wellbeing. But it is a myth that toddlers or babies need stimulation, education or friends. They need close supervision by a familiar, responsive adult.
Overall, there is just no reason to use daycare if you can possibly find an alternative. The evidence shows unmistakably that most parents would prefer a relative, and that it is indeed best if the substitute is one-on-one for an under-three, providing care at home. If that is unaffordable, a minder, preferably caring for only one other child who is older than your under-three, is best.
Doubled cortisol on being left in daycare: Ahnert, L et al, 2004, Child Development, 75, 639-50 ... For a fuller account of this evidence, contact Oliver James at selfishcapitalist.com. It is also available on pp274-99 in Oliver James's How Not to F*** Them Up, out in June