WASHINGTON Some effects of poor quality day care last until age 10 or 11, but very few, and good parenting is probably more important, U.S. government researchers reported on Monday.
A long-term study of children aimed at resolving disputes over whether daycare is harmful has found that subtle effects on behavior and vocabulary can last until fifth or sixth grade.
The team at the National Institutes of Health found that children who got higher quality child care before kindergarten scored better on vocabulary tests in the fifth grade than children who received poor quality care.
There were no differences in math, reading or other skills.
And the more time children spent in day care centers before kindergarten, the more likely their sixth grade teachers were to report such problem behaviors as "gets in many fights," "disobedient at school," and "argues a lot."
However, these effects were very subtle, said Dr. James Griffin, who oversaw the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study.
"If you went into one of these classrooms, you wouldn't be able to say 'this child, this child, and this child attended center-based care'," Griffin said in a telephone interview.
Writing in the journal Child Development, the research team is updating a study that has tracked 1,364 children at 10 different U.S. sites since 1991.
The controversial study has renewed debate over whether placing small children into child care facilities damages their learning and behavior.
The researchers have measured the quality, quantity and type of child care the children received from birth until they were 4-1/2 years old.
Child care was defined as regularly scheduled care by anyone other than the child's mother, lasting at least 10 hours per week. Quality child care is complex to define but includes having trained caregivers and a low child-to-caregiver ratio.
The study found in 2001 that children who were in child care were more likely to be aggressive and defiant in kindergarten. Monday's study follows them into the fifth and sixth grades.
Griffin said the findings are not an indictment of child care centers.
"I think the bottom line on this one is that we are still showing the effects of quality, so you want to look as much as possible to make sure it is accredited, that the teachers have a strong background in child development," Griffin said.
"And the other thing is if your child is in these early age ranges and is showing some problem behaviors ... don't necessarily just ignore that and hope they are going to grow out of it. Talk with the teachers," Griffin said.
The researchers also assessed the quality of parenting. Griffin said attention from parents is far more important to how a child turns out than day care or schooling.