In the past several years, day care has become the norm in most American families especially that more and more women are joining the workforce and this has become integrated into the welfare system (Davies, 1998). Over the years, research has been active in determining the positive and negative effects of day care to the mental health and cognitive functioning of young children. Results at best have provided evidence that good quality day care is a positive experience for young children (Davies, 1998).
On the other hand, proving that day care can significantly affect the mental health and cognitive functioning of the child has remained ambiguous. Establishing causality between use of day care and child mental health and cognitive functioning is difficult because of several variables that might confound the results of the research study. First of this is the inherent personality and temperament of children, measuring child temperament of very young children is cumbersome and difficult coupled with the fact that valid instruments might not be available at this time.
It is a fact that mental health and adjustment and cognitive functioning in young children are influenced by their traits and individual differences, hence one could not absolutely say that use of day care would lead to better mental health adjustment and cognitive functioning. Second is the parenting styles of the child’s parents, the child in day care might have involved, authoritative parents or they might have detached and autocratic parents.
Although parenting style can be assessed through parenting instruments but it does not clearly provide an explanation as to how a child behaves or how prepared he/she is to interact with children and other caregivers. It is therefore possible that a child that attends a day care center would be socially adept and well adjusted but this could be easily a product of his/her family set-up and parenting style rather than being in day care.
Lastly, establishing causality means that the research must prove that the use of day care causes the betterment or deterioration of the child’s mental health and cognitive functioning, this alone is a methodological challenge since day care is made up of several elements lumped into the concept of day care and one factor such as playing with children may have an effect in cognitive functioning but not in mental health.
Meanwhile, measuring mental health and cognitive functioning in young children would entail that the research be a longitudinal study since these variables are not manifested in very young children, hence following original research participants for a period of 10 or 15 years might be a more valid design, but one also has to account that children through the years are shaped by their educational experiences in formal schooling and this may inadvertently influence the results of the study in favor of day care when in fact what has been measured was educational experiences in later years.
References Davies, C. (1998), Assessing outcomes in child care: An international perspective. Children & Society,12; 3, pp. 155-160. Harvey, E. A. (1999). Short-term and long-term effects of early parental employment on children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Developmental Psychology, 35, 445-459. Available at http://euryale. sbs. umass. edu/users/eharvey/devpsycharticle. pdf