Childcare, Babies and Mental Health
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Ever wondered whether childcare for babies and infants is beneficial for a child? Or is spending time with Mom more important for a baby’s emotional development? A new study from Australia sheds some light on this intriguing issue.
Debates concerning whether an infant is better off being at home in parental care versus professional long-term daycare are highly emotive and fraught with inconsistencies due to the nature of the topic. Working parents, particularly single mothers who have little choice as to whether to return to work or not, usually suffer the most in regard to this issue.
While some women do have a choice financially to remain at home with their babies, others do not. A further group of women can afford to stay at home but feel happier working and argue that they are better mothers for doing so. Whatever route a mother decides to go seems to be strewn with some degree of guilt.
An interesting study from Charles Sturt University in Australia has sought to shed light on this problem by following a group of babies under the age of twelve months and comparing the emotional benefits of the stay-at-home scenario versus formal daycare.
The results show that children under the age of one with stay-at-home parents have an improved chance of healthy emotional and behavioral development than some children in formal daycare.
The most interesting part of the study was the focus on the word “some.”
While the majority of home-based infants fared better in scores for emotional wellbeing, there were notable exceptions. If the child came from a disadvantaged background, the child was often better off receiving short term high quality daycare. In fact, many other studies have demonstrated the same effect.
In cases where there are problems in the home, the infant responded better to high- quality care from a source other than the parent. The reasons for dysfunctionality in the home could be many and varied. Problem drinking, gambling addictions, unstable parental relationships; even something as common as postnatal depression have been cited as situations where the child benefits from some time spent outside of the parental home.
Most studies in this area point to similar conclusions. Yes, it is beneficial and preferable for very young infants to be in the primary care of a family member. However, this must be tempered with the stability and emotional healthiness of the home environment. There is no clear cut, decisive answer to this dilemma simply because all families differ in their ability to deliver quality childcare.
Clearly, both babies and parents alike would benefit from additional
support, education, and early childhood services in order to provide
the optimal home environment whichever way we choose to raise our children.