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Day-Care vs. Maternal Care Essay

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Updated: May 10th, 2021

Introduction

Child development experts hold different opinions about the importance and impact of the first two years of infant growth on human welfare. Some do not consider this period as important in psychosocial progress, while others view it as critical to improved social and mental health outcomes (Hillemeier, Morgan, Farkas & Maczuga, 2013). Those who hold this latter view argue that this period is particularly sensitive as it is now that human beings start to establish trajectories that will guide them through the various stages of their later-life development (Hillemeier et al., 2013). Since these trajectories are self-sustaining, the first few months of a child’s development also bear significant implications for science and social policy. More importantly, child development experts view the infant growth period as having a significant bearing on early developmental growth (Ruzek, Burchinal, Farkas & Duncan, 2014).

The importance of the infant developmental period has worried some child development experts who are concerned about profound changes in lifestyle patterns that influence child development outcomes during the first few years after birth. The most significant change that has happened in the last three decades, affecting this period, has been the development and expansion of day-care centers, which offer substitutes for maternal care. The onset of the industrial revolution and subsequent shifts in economic patterns around the world have heralded a period where both parents find themselves working away from home (usually at the same time). This situation is unlike traditional patriarchal societies where women stayed at home and cared for their children.

This transformation is happening on the back of changing women’s roles in society. Notably, changes in maternal employment patterns during the early years of a child’s life have introduced new issues relating to the consequences of depriving infants of maternal care. Relative to these concerns, Lumian, Dmitrieva, Mendoza, Badanes, and Watamura (2016) state that many mothers in America today return to work before their children celebrate their first birthdays. At the beginning of the 21st century, reports showed that up to 58% of women who had newly born children were working away from home (Lumian et al., 2016). In the 1970s and 80s, this percentage stood at 27% and 46%, respectively (Leroy, Gadsden & Guijarro, 2012).

A report authored by the Families and Work Institute says the number of women in the workforce in the early 2000s was almost equal to that of men (Lumian et al., 2016). The same finding is supported by statistics, which show that almost 44% of household incomes today are products of women being at work (Leroy et al., 2012). These numbers reveal that working away from home is no more a choice than it is a decision to care for families. Although few people today believe that leaving children at day-care facilities is a “bad thing,” parents are as worried today as they were two decades ago. The statistics mentioned above reveal that non-maternal care has become a modern-day phenomenon to ease the burden of parents who cannot stay at home to raise their children.

Much of the debate surrounding the effects of non-maternal care on infant development focuses on the possible consequences of this type of care on human development. This essay demonstrates that although institutionalized care poses several risks to infant development, it is still a practical way of raising children in modern society because its effects can easily be mitigated by the provision of high-quality care. The essay concludes that it is easy to appreciate the importance of seeking the best quality care for toddlers because it is the only way to minimize some of the negative effects of day-care on infant development.

The first section, below, highlights some of the main concerns held about the growing influence of day-care on infant development.

Risks to Psychosocial Development Associated with Day-Care

Aggressive Behaviour

While many of the views that support the influence of day-care facilities on human development are partially grounded in empirical research, some child development experts have expressed their concerns about this model of care by saying that prolonged periods of exposure to non-maternal care could lead to long-term psychosocial problems (Babchishin, Weegar & Romano, 2013). Some of the more obvious issues are associated with the possible development of insecurities and heightened anxiety among infants when in the presence of their parents (Babchishin et al., 2013). Although most of the evidence supporting the above view is not clinical, some researchers have argued that institutionalized care could eventually lead to children developing aggressive behavior or becoming defiant to society, as well as their parents (Babchishin et al., 2013).

Aggressive Behaviour

Several studies have linked negative behavioral outcomes in child development to continued exposure to institutionalized care. For example, a study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) says that infants who spend more than 10 hours a week in day-care tend to be more argumentative than those who spend fewer hours, or who only receive maternal care (Babchishin et al., 2013). At the same time, the same children tend to be more disruptive in class and disobedient. Stemming from these observations, one notable risk associated with extended exposure to day-care is aggressive behavior.

Leroy et al. (2012) support the above finding by noting that several cases of aggressive behaviors have been reported among children who have been exposed to institutionalized care for long periods. Such behaviors have largely been witnessed when children reach the kindergarten stage. Indeed, Leroy et al. (2012) add that when they reach the age of six, they could have suffered some type of trauma. This negative experience could be caused by impatience and aggressive behavior, which are commonly associated with day-care. Therefore, the general observation is that these children are more disruptive to their peers compared to those who have been raised through maternal care.

Most researchers who have highlighted aggressive behavior among infants and linked it to their care environment point to studies that have investigated the root causes of violence among teenagers. These behavioral problems have been highlighted in a National Longitudinal Study funded by the Canadian government, which showed worrisome behavioral trends among children who were raised in day-care settings for at least 45 hours a week (Babchishin et al., 2013). The studies also showed that children who have these problems exhibit the same aggression in their elementary school years. Leroy et al. (2012) add that these behavioral problems manifest in about 26% of children who attend day-care for the duration stated above.

The above studies mentioned time as an important moderator of this relationship because they demonstrated that children who spent less than 10 hours in a day-care center did not exhibit the same problems (Leroy et al., 2012). The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has further supported these findings by taking into account the quality of day-care facilities and the income of the parents who enroll their children into the institutions (Leroy et al., 2012). The $100 million studies, which are among the largest and most expensive investigations undertaken so far, reveals that the total amount of time parents spend with their children (from birth to preschool years) is instrumental in determining their behavioral outcomes (Leroy et al., 2012). Or, to put it the other way, the more time children spend away from their parents, the more aggressive they are likely to become. Studies that investigated the behavioral patterns of children in full-time day-care facilities revealed the most profound findings because they showed that these children were three times more likely to develop behavioral problems compared to their counterparts who received maternal care (Hillemeier et al., 2013).

Poor Social Skills

Some parents have cited improved social skills as one of the advantages of taking children to day-care facilities (Hillemeier et al., 2013). However, select studies have also shown that the opposite could be true because many children who grow up in day-care facilities tend to have poor social skills later in life (D’Hooghe, 2017). This could be explained by the fact the children are less informed about social interactions when they are in these institutions (Babchishin et al., 2013). Usually, toddlers do not deliberately choose such an outcome. Instead, poor social development occurs naturally to them because of their inability to develop strong social bonds which their counterparts, who have grown up in maternal care, enjoy based on their interactions with family members (D’Hooghe, 2017). The problem is partly defined by the probability that they may start to view the family unit as comprised of people they interact with at the day-care facility as opposed to those they are biologically related to (Babchishin et al., 2013).

Possible Development of Depression and Anxiety

Sending infants to day-care, as opposed to caring for them at home, has also been linked to increased cases of depression and anxiety (Leroy et al., 2012). Anxiety is often caused by the lack of infant attachment to maternal care from birth (D’Hooghe, 2017). Such a problem could manifest as “separation anxiety” because such children are often forced to be away from their parents even though they do not wish for this situation. Additionally, evidence shows that these children are largely dependent on other people and fail to use their time wisely or complete their work on time because of depression and anxiety (Ruzek et al., 2014).

According to Leroy et al. (2012), children who grow up in day-care centers may exhibit signs of poor social adaptation because they suffer from emotional disorders and personality dysfunctions. Long-term studies that have investigated the same phenomenon by investigating child development from birth into adulthood reveal that the institutionalization of infants in the first five years of development often leads to challenges in emotional and social adjustment later in life (Ruzek et al., 2014). Leroy et al. (2012) support this assertion by saying that most children who are frequently cared for in day-care centers commonly show signs of indiscriminate attachment and friendliness. They are also more likely to be clingy and attention-seeking (D’Hooghe, 2017).

Researchers who have delved deeper into this matter reveal that the problem lies in the institutional setup of day-care facilities, which denies infants the adequate quantity of care they require (Lumian et al., 2016). The “substitute mothers” can often be called away to complete other duties or to attend to other children. Therefore, the infants develop a sense of “lack,” which frustrates them and could develop into depression and anxiety in later years. Several researchers who examined this issue in the 1990s observed that children raised in day-care facilities are often vulnerable to medical and psychological hazards because of institutionalized care (Babchishin et al., 2013). They also found that the effects of this type of care cannot be minimized to a tolerable or acceptable level, even with an increase in expenditure (Babchishin et al., 2013). Studies that have investigated the short-term effects of institutionalized care also report that such care exposes children to infectious diseases and can result in delayed development of linguistic skills. Researchers who have investigated the same effect on children coming from impoverished backgrounds claim that these outcomes are more profound among low-income populations (Ruzek et al., 2014).

Insecurity

When children are exposed to long periods of institutionalized care, they can easily develop a sense of detachment from their parents and other family members. Coker, Windon, Moreno, Schuster, and Chung (2013) say detachment often arises after infants develop an understanding of object permanence. This problem emerges when the toddlers realize that the absence of a parent is unsettling, stemming from the understanding that the parents are the primary caregivers. Researchers suggest that separation anxiety intensifies when children are around nine months old (Shah, Kennedy, Clark, Bauer & Schwartz, 2016). Other infants develop this insecurity problem later when they are around 15-18 months old (Coker et al., 2013).

The risk of infants developing insecurities in their later years of development was partly explored by researchers such as Mary Ainsworth in her readjustment of the attachment theory. She said that such insecurity issues often stem from “attachment behaviours” where children try to establish a relationship with a previously absent caregiver (Cassidy, Jones & Shaver, 2013). Since this need to re-establish attachment occurs almost innately among human beings, several researchers have suggested that it could be a trait that humans are born with (D’Hooghe, 2017; Cassidy et al., 2013). These findings were developed from a study that analyzed a cross-section of children who had varying degrees of attachment to their parents. Those who had the strongest attachment were seen to be more secure when left alone, while those who did not enjoy this relationship seemed to be in distress (D’Hooghe, 2017; Cassidy et al., 2013). Although the attachment theory does not specify which type of caregiver is more important to a child’s development, it emphasizes the importance of at least one parent to develop an attachment to their newly born children (De Souza & Veríssimo, 2015).

Jean Piaget highlighted the above problem in his studies which sought to understand how object permanence is integral to cognitive development (Rehman, Ali, Gulap & Karim, 2014). His views are enshrined in the cognitive development theory, which presupposes that children are often busy and motivated explorers whose actions are typically directly influenced by their environment, or what they see (Rehman et al., 2014). The theory draws attention to an important concern among experts who do not advocate non-maternal care – poor cognitive development. Holistically, the cognitive development theory has four distinct stages: the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operational stage (Rehman et al., 2014).

Evidence of the above findings appears in several studies, which have shown that infants may develop a sense of detachment because their parents do not allocate enough time with them (Shah et al., 2016). Studies that support this assertion also demonstrate that many children who grow up frequenting day-care facilities tend to rebel against their parents (D’Hooghe, 2017). They also extend the rebellious streak in defiance of teachers later in their teenage years.

Although these views appear in several psychological studies, which underscore the importance of maternal care, some researchers contend that the problem does not necessarily hinge on the amount of routine childcare, but rather on the quality of infant care offered (Shah et al., 2016). Based on this observation, they propose that non-maternal care should be of high quality. From this assumption, they argue that caregivers should be nurturing, attentive, and stimulating. This view provides a way to understand how institutionalized care could be beneficial to parents who are unable to take care of their children. The possible benefits are discussed below.

Potential Benefits of Day-care

Some proponents of day-care argue that continued provision of such care has little to no effect on infant growth and development because infant development is largely determined by genes, as opposed to their experiences when growing up (Belsky & Pluess, 2013). This view espouses the principles of the psychoanalytic theory, which relies on personality formation to determine developmental outcomes. Erik Erikson developed this theory and suggests that human beings undergo eight stages of development (Salomonsson, 2017). These stages are defined by a struggle between positive and negative emotional states that emerge as developmental crises that must be resolved. The resolution process depends on the interaction between an individual’s personality and existing environmental outcomes.

This paper’s discussion on infant development covers the first stage of this conflict because it starts from birth, up to 6 years old (Malone, Liu, Vaillant, Rentz & Waldinger 2016). The later stages involve conflicts that define human development from when they are 6 years old up to when they become adults. The first conflict involves a struggle between trust and mistrust because it outlines a period where infants believe that their caregivers would take care of them unconditionally (Keys et al., 2013). Those who do not get proper care during this period tend to develop mistrust for people and those around them (Belsky & Pluess, 2013). The other stages of psychological development involve struggles between autonomy and doubt (second stage), initiative vs. guilt (third stage), industry vs. inferiority (fourth stage), identity vs. role confusion (fifth stage), intimacy vs. isolation (sixth stage), productivity vs. stagnation (seventh stage), and ego integrity vs. despair (eight stages) (Gilleard & Higgs, 2016). Although all these stages of development are relevant to a common understanding of human growth, the first stage of mistrust vs. mistrust applies best to the context of this paper’s discussion.

The inclusion of personality in determining human developmental outcomes largely explains why proponents of day-care are confident about its effects on infant development. As mentioned in this paper, genes are also partly important in determining human developmental outcomes. In other words, they do not holistically believe that negative infant developmental outcomes are solely attributed to social or environmental influences. This is why some experts argue that the impact of day-care on infant development is minimal because such outcomes are largely moderated by an infant’s gene pool (Malone et al., 2016). Therefore, they say there is no cause for alarm; as long as the infant gets “good enough” care, their development will not differ much from infants who get maternal care.

A section of observers also supports the growth of day-care services because they say when good quality institutionalized care is offered, it could be more empowering to infants who would have otherwise grown up in unstable homes (Malone et al., 2016). In particular, they say such care is disproportionately beneficial to children who hail from low-income families or from communities characterized by low education levels. A study by Garbarski (2014) affirms the above fact by arguing that children from low-income backgrounds tend to benefit the most from non-maternal care. Children who have poorly educated mothers and those who are being raised by foreign parents have also been highlighted in the study to benefit immensely from day-care (Garbarski, 2014). Nevertheless, the same study draws our attention to other moderating factors in infant development, such as the quality of care offered, the number of children in the day-care facility, and the level of training of day-care staff. The quality of the care staff is also highlighted in a study by Li, Farkas, Duncan, Burchinal, and Vandell (2013) which showed that high-quality care is often associated with better memory, good language skills, and oratory prowess among infants who received institutionalized care (Stolarova et al., 2016).

A report by Jaffee, Van Hulle, and Rodgers (2012) also reveals that infants raised in the day-care setting are not necessarily disadvantaged compared to their counterparts who grow up with maternal care because there are no differences between the outcomes of children cared for in day-care facilities and at home. This view is partly supported by a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which tried to investigate the effects of non-maternal care among children in their first seven years of development (Jaffee et al., 2012). The study sought to understand the impact of non-maternal care among children in the first three years after birth and found no significant developmental differences among children who were exposed to prolonged non-maternal care and those who were raised at home (Jaffee et al., 2012). In fact, the study proposed that children who received non-maternal care reported decreased behavioral problems and higher achievement levels (Jaffee et al., 2012).

Relative to the above view, Leroy et al. (2012) believe that this outcome only applies to infants with special needs and “typically developing” children. Nonetheless, the study by Jaffee et al. (2012) shows that the timing of entry into non-maternal care does not have a significant impact on infant development. Complementary studies show that children who were exposed to high quality or medium quality care were 4.5 more likely to develop high levels of cognitive development by their 15th birthdays (Mills-Koonce et al., 2015). The same findings showed that high-quality day-care services were associated with fewer behavioral problems among infants and an improvement in their development standards (Mills-Koonce et al., 2015).

Studies that support this point of view demonstrate that toddlers who receive institutionalized care tend to score higher in specific standardized tests compared to their counterparts who receive home care (Santos, Corsi, Marques & Rocha, 2013). The same positive performance has been linked to improved cognitive and language development (Mills-Koonce et al., 2015). Relative to this assertion, Leroy et al. (2012) say children who grew up in day-care facilities developed a higher cognitive function compared to those who received maternal care. Their range of vocabulary was also significantly broader compared to their peers. Collectively, these attributes explained why they attained good scores in school.

Unlike their counterparts who receive only maternal care, research shows that infants who are exposed to institutionalized care also develop good social skills if they get high-quality care and cooperative caregivers. Some of the skills they develop, which help them to reach these levels of competence, include assertiveness, a heightened sense of responsibility, and self-control (Santos et al., 2013). In later years, these children also develop strong bonding skills with adults much more easily than their counterparts who only receive maternal care. This attribute also indirectly enhances the child’s dynamic growth process in later years. Comprehensively, these findings explain why there are instances where child specialists advise parents to take their children to day-care facilities because doing so would promote their children’s development.

Analysis

This paper has highlighted several risks associated with infant development that is linked to institutionalized care. They include aggressive behavior, poor social skills, possible development of depression and anxiety disorders, and the emergence of personal insecurity issues. Several theorists have also highlighted these risks in their studies on child development and human growth outcomes. However, the attachment theory is perhaps one of the most widely used theories explaining different aspects of child development and their relationships with caregivers. The theory was developed by John Bowlby and states that the relationship between infants and their caregivers is integral to their protection (Wissink et al., 2016). The theory generally argues for the establishment of strong developmental ties between infants and at least one caregiver because doing so would be instrumental in their development (Wissink et al., 2016). This theory also proposes that the development of such a relationship is instrumental in providing a necessary sense of security and foundation for their lives (Jones, Cassidy & Shaver, 2015). Therefore, much of the energy needed to support infant development is focused on searching for stability and security. Infants who do not develop these strong attachments become more reserved in seeking out and trying new experiences in life.

By extension, the attachment theory supports the need for maternal care in infant development because it strongly advocates for parental involvement in infant development. At the same time, the theory does not conceptualize situations where other people could substitute the role of the parent in infant development because it specifically refers to the need for caregivers to provide constant support and security for their children during their formative years. Nonetheless, determining the risks to aspects of child development associated with sending infants to day-care facilities as opposed to caring for them at home is not an easy process.

Researchers seem to have varied views on the matter, with those who support day-care saying it does not have a significant effect on infant development compared to maternal care. In fact, many proponents argue that this type of care could have positive effects on children. At the same time, other researchers point to a contrary scenario. Several sociology experts and child development researchers highlighted in this paper have expressed their concerns about sustained exposure of infants to day-care facilities. Their concerns are expounded in studies that have identified various risks related to this type of care. Based on the merits and demerits of their arguments, it is difficult to deny that day-care attracts both positive and negative attributes to infant development. Therefore, it is wrong to assume that non-maternal care is less desirable than maternal care because many variables moderate the relationship between day-care service provision and infant development. To recap, some of these factors include quality of care, the type of care, the number of times a child is subjected to this type of care, and the quality of parenting they are exposed to at home.

This paper has aimed to show the conflicting perspectives with regards to the implications of maternal care, vis-à-vis non-maternal care. As De Souza and Veríssimo (2015) acknowledge, it is difficult to sort through all these perspectives, partly because of limited academic literature on the subject and largely because of the unavailability of conclusive research data on the topic. The challenge has mostly been occasioned by the inability to carry out conclusive empirical research on the subject because most parents are unwilling to leave their infants in the hands of a caregiver for up to 40 hours each week for experimental purposes. Another challenge has been the difficulty of controlling the effects of variations in the quality of care from different day-care centers and families (De Souza & Veríssimo, 2015). Often, studies that have attempted to contribute to this discussion have not accounted for such variations, while those that have done so are limited in the research scope. Furthermore, many studies have not fully considered the effects of different features of childcare when investigating the impact of prolonged exposure to day-care because they have only limited their research to two features – the quality and type of care. Thus, they fail to note the effect of other features of development, such as the amount of care and the age at which children are admitted into day-care facilities within their investigations.

Based on a comprehensive review of the evidence analyzed in this paper, the view that day-care centers do not cause obvious harm to infant development surpasses the opposing view. Indeed, it is important to note that the main limitation to this point of view is the low number of high-quality day-care facilities available. For example, a study by Felfe and Lalive (2014) reveals that only 2 out of 5 day-care facilities can guarantee either moderate or high-quality day-care services to their clients. In fact, a study by Santos et al. (2013) reported that typically only 17% of infants receive high-quality care, while only 24% of them report receiving moderate-quality care. A greater percentage of parents (35%) reported receiving low-quality care (Felfe & Lalive, 2014). The same study cautions that prolonged exposure of infants to day-care is predictive of more risk-taking behaviors and impulsivity in their teenage years.

Given the merits and demerits of these arguments, it is the responsibility of each parent to ask themselves what kind of care their children are getting from their caregivers. The evidence analyzed in this paper shows that they need to look for specific attributes among caregivers that would enhance the development of their children. For example, they need to take their children to facilities where caregivers exhibit positive attitudes and respond quickly to children’s questions (Miron et al., 2013). At the same time, they should look for institutions that have caregivers who encourage and enhance the behaviors of their children, as well as discourage negative interactions with others (Miron et al., 2013). Generally, parents will benefit from positive infant development if they are more sensitive and responsive to the environmental factors that affect the growth and development of their children.

Generally, the findings highlighted in this study affirm the principles of the behaviorist theory of child development (developed by John Watson), which presupposes that at birth a child’s mind is a blank paper and environmental influences determine what will be “written” on it (Miron et al., 2013). However, the theory lays a lot of emphasis on maternal influences by showing that they have the greatest influence on a child’s learning through positive reinforcement. The principle of positive reinforcement stipulates that when parents reward good behavior in their children, the same behavior is likely to recur in the future. Based on its focus on children’s behavior, the behaviorist theory is mostly applicable to understanding how day-care and maternal care influence children’s behaviors.

Summary and Conclusion

This paper has highlighted several risks associated with infant development that are associated with institutionalized care. They include aggressive behavior, poor social skills, possible development of depression and anxiety disorders, and the emergence of personal insecurity issues. Several theorists have also highlighted these risks in their studies on child development and human growth outcomes. However, an analysis of the evidence presented in this report reveals that most of these risks could be mitigated through the provision of high-quality institutionalized care. Therefore, the quality of care offered to infants in day-care facilities moderates the effects of non-maternal care on infant development.

Generally, the findings of this paper present both bad and good news to parents because whichever side of the debate they support, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with the different types of care that could be offered to their infants. Regardless of whichever type of care an infant receives from their caregivers (parent, guardian, or a stranger), the most important thing to consider is the relationship between the child and the caregiver. As such, some of the concerns presented in this report, which show that the exposure of infants to longer hours of day-care could cause behavioral problems, should not be seen as an unfortunate occurrence in today’s society, but rather a call to action. The more parents can foster quality relationships with their children, the lower the likelihood that such an occurrence could happen. Therefore, the solution could be in establishing a balance between day-care and maternal care. Nevertheless, the findings presented in this essay reaffirm what child development experts have been saying for a long time –it is the quality of care offered to children that really matters.

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IvyPanda. (2021, May 10). Day-Care vs. Maternal Care. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/day-care-vs-maternal-care/

Work Cited

"Day-Care vs. Maternal Care." IvyPanda, 10 May 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/day-care-vs-maternal-care/.

1. IvyPanda. "Day-Care vs. Maternal Care." May 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/day-care-vs-maternal-care/.


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IvyPanda. "Day-Care vs. Maternal Care." May 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/day-care-vs-maternal-care/.

References

IvyPanda. 2021. "Day-Care vs. Maternal Care." May 10, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/day-care-vs-maternal-care/.

References

IvyPanda. (2021) 'Day-Care vs. Maternal Care'. 10 May.

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