Mother’s have quite the dilemma when deciding when and if to return to work after giving birth to a child. Sometimes the choice is made for them due to financial reasons and sometimes they have the luxury of deciding on which is the best scenario for themselves and their families. In trying to make this decision, mothers may wonder if and how their absence and the choice of child care will affect their child. In all the years I have spend in early childhood education and child care, I think I have probably seen all of the “scenarios” and know that there is no one right answer. Each situation is different and there are so many variables, even within each variable, but the evidence is so vast that there are certainly findings to please almost everyone (Belsky, 2009, p. 1). In my research on this delicate topic, I have come to the conclusion that the only two factors that can predict positive outcomes for children’s later development is the combination of child care quality and healthy family attachments and support. As you will see, there are so many variables and each plays into the other, but safe and secure relationships at home and in child care are the winning factors in this decades long debate.
There are two well-known pieces of data that have been gathered which researchers have utilized throughout the years to study the effects of maternal employment on later development. The first was conducted by the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) and began in 1979. The NLSY79 is a nationally representative sample of 12, 686 young men and women who were 12-22 years old when they were first surveyed in 1979. These individuals were interviewed annually through 1994 and are currently interviewed on a biennial basis” (US Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/nls/y79summary.htm, para. 1). In 1986, the NLSY79 was used as “a separate survey of all children born to NLSY79 female respondents” to conduct more child-specific information” (US Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/nls/nlsy79ch.htm, para. 8). Researchers such as Jay Belsky (1988) first utilized the NLSY79 data to study the effects of early and extensive maternal employment. Belsky, etc al. concluded “that children who had initiated care for 30 or more hours per week in their first year and whose care at this level continued through their preschool years evinced poorer academic and social functioning than did children whose full-time care began sometime later – and that this was true whether one looked at teacher reports, parent reports, peer reports, or the children’s own self-reports” (Belsky & Eggebeen, 1991, p. 1084). There were some problems with this early research and the data that was used to interpret outcomes. One of the problems was that the two groups studied (maternal employment and non-maternal employment) were too different in so many ways. “One of the most difficult methodological issues in studying this causal process is the fact that there are substantial differences between women who work soon after their child is born and women who do not” (Hill, Waldfogel, Brooks-Gunn, & Wen-Jui, 2005, p. 834). Another problem with this wave of research was that “the effects of different features of the child-care experience, particularly the quality of the care, the amount or quality of care, and the type of care” (Belsky, Vandell, Burchinal, et al., 2007, p. 682) were not taken into account at the same time. Prior research “examined one or another feature of the child-care experience, but never all three” (Belsky, Vandell, Burchinal, et al., 2007, p. 682).
The second wave of research was based on more specific data “to examine the concurrent, long-term, and cumulative influences of variations in early child care experiences on the cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and physical development of infants and toddlers” (Friedman, NICHD, 1992, p. 1.). These researchers were...
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