Nonmaternal Care

Because of the role that lengthy child-parent separations played in Bowlby's original formulations of attachment theory, concern has been raised often about the consequences of more routine, short-term separations of the kind experienced on a daily basis by children cared for by someone other than a parent when mother is employed. The initial work addressing this issue focused almost exclusively upon children being cared for in very-high-quality, university-based centers and generally failed to reveal any consistent association between day care and attachment insecurity (for reviews, see Belsky & Steinberg, 1978; Rutter, 1981). However, this first wave of attachment day care research used as an index of security the extent to which the child became upset upon separation from parent, even though it was never clear conceptually whether greater or lesser distress should be considered a marker of security (or insecurity).

When we examined the issue of relations between nonmaternal care and security of infant-parent attachment in our second and third longitudinal studies, using the Ainsworth et al. (1978) reunion-based Strange-Situation scoring system, two particularly interesting findings emerged. First, infants who experienced, on average, more than 20 hours per week of such care during their first year were more likely to develop insecure attachments than were children who experienced less nonmaternal care (Belsky & Rovine, 1988). In fact, when I compiled data from my own work and that from other studies of nonrisk samples that were published in the scientific literature , the same pattern emerged (Belsky, 1988). Subsequently, Clarke-Stewart (1989) and Lamb and colleagues (1990) undertook similar analyses, drawing upon both published and unpublished data. The results of these compilations of findings of research carried out in the United States across a variety of nonmaternal caregiving arrangements (e.g., centers, family day care homes, nanny care) all revealed a reliable association between more than 20 hours per week of such nonmaternal care in the first year of life and attachment insecurity. The magnitudes of association varied, however, with Belsky and Rovine (1988), Clarke-Stewart (1989) and Lamb et al. (1990) indicating, respectively, that the rate of infant-mother attachment insecurity was 65%, 24%, and 83% higher among infants with more than 20 hours per week of nonparental care in their first year relative to infants with less time (including none at all) in such care. Subsequent to the publication of this work, however, Roggmann et al. (1994) addressed the same issue using data from five studies they had carried out and failed to replicate these results.

The second noteworthy finding to emerge from our own work concerned infant-father attachment security. Like Chase-Lansdale and Owen (1987) before us, we found that sons with more than 35 or more hours per week of nonmaternal care (in the United States) were more likely to develop insecure attachments to their fathers and thus have two insecure attachments (one to mother and one to father) than were other boys (Belsky & Rovine, 1988). These findings seemed particularly significant as earlier work in our lab (Belsky, Garduque, & Hrncir, 1984) and by others (Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1987; Howes et al., 1988; Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985; Main & Weston, 1981) indicated that children with two insecure attachment relationships functioned more poorly than did children with one or more secure attachments.

A variety of observations about and explanations of these findings linking extensive nonmaternal care in the first year of life with elevated rates of insecure attachment have been offered. Consider first the fact that more than half of the children who experience early and extensive infant day care were classified as secure; such variation in response to early day care suggests that separation per se is probably not the principal cause of the elevated rates of insecurity that have been repeatedly chronicled. Consider next that the quality of child care in the United States is known to be limited; thus, elevated rates of insecurity may have as much, or more, to do with the nature of the care infants receive when cared for by someone other than mother than by the fact that mother is not providing the care. Especially notable in this regard is the fact that toddlers are more likely to develop secure attachments to those who care for them in child care when these caregivers are more sensitive, responsive and available to them (Goosens & van IJzendoorn, 1990; Howes et al., 1988); and that security of attachment to caregiver is itself related to more competent social functioning, especially in concert with secure attachment to mother (Howes et al., 1988). These findings would again seem to implicate the quality of nonmaternal care which the child receives when it comes to understanding the developmental effects of early child care. Also to be considered is the quality of care which the child experiences at home when with his parents, especially since extensive time away from the parent may make it more difficult for the parent to provide the kind of care that fosters attachment security (i.e., sensitive care). Of course, the pressures that working parents experience when at home with the child may also make the provision of such care more difficult.

These varied and complex issues which remained unresolved in discussions of effects of day care led to the establishment of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1994), a research project in which exactly the same research protocol is being implemented at ten different research sites across the United States in order to illuminate the conditions under which early child care enhances or compromises children's development. More than 1,300 children and their families were recruited into this work when infants were 1 month of age, after identifying children and families at their local hospitals shortly after their births. The sample is quite varied demographically and ethnically, but does not include any families in which mother does not speak English fluently or in which the mother is under 18 years of age. A rather extensive research protocol has been implemented to study infant and family development, as well as child care, in this extensive project which is following the children from age 1 month through middle childhood (with pending prospects for further extension). Most importantly, the quality of child care received is measured in detail using observational methods that evaluate both the general child care setting, whether it be a private home or center, and the moment-to-moment experiences that the child has with caregiver(s) and other children when the child is 6, 15, 24, 36, and 54 months of age. At these same ages, multiple features of the family are measured; most important for purposes of this chapter are assessments of the sensitivity of mothering. Such assessments take the form of videotapes of mother-child interaction under free play conditions which are coded using Ainsworth-like rating scales and more naturalistic observations of maternal attentive responsiveness to the child while being interviewed. At all but 6 months of age, children are evaluated in the university laboratory using a variety of methodologies; Strange Situations were administered when children were 15 months of age (and again when children were 36 months old).

With respect to infant-mother attachment security and the effects of early child care, the NICHD Study of Early Child Care had two specific goals. The first was to assess the validity of Strange Situation measurements in the case of children with repeated experiences of being separated from mother due to concerns raised about this methodology with these particular children. The second goal concerned relations between early nonmaternal care and attachment security. Specifically, we sought to determine whether, or under what conditions, experience in child care increased or decreased the probability that a child would establish a secure attachment to his mother.

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