factors of child care matter to children's development?
Child care experts have described in clear detail the
structural, procedural, and interactive factors that are
important for early child care (e.g., Friendly
& Beach, 2005). Knowledge about child
care quality often comes from child development theory,
from observation, and
from the experience of caring for children. CCKM’s Research
Guide adds to this descriptive and experiential knowledge the
results of studies that directly measured the relationship of
child care quality to outcomes of children’s development.
The relationship of overall quality of child care to
children’s cognitive, language, and behavioural development
was examined in 45 (68%) of the 66 research reports. All 45 articles measured quality of child care in the
home or centre as a composite of many different features of
care, but the
researchers did not all use the same measuring tool.
Most studies of child care centre quality (60%) used the Early
Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), first published in
1980 by Dr. Thelma Harms and her colleagues, or its version
for infants and toddlers (ITERS). The ECERS assesses a range
of child care features, including space and furnishings,
personal care routines, language-reasoning, activities,
interaction, program structure, and parents and staff.
During work time hours, parents more frequently place their children in the homes of
others than in child care centres. The Family Day Care Rating Scale is
designed to measure the quality of care in family home
settings and as a counterpart to the ECERS centre assessment
protocol. The two tests are similar in structure, but the
FDCRS does not contain items that would apply only to centre
facilities. To obtain high scores on the FDCRS, home day care
setting must reflect standards for cognitive, language and
social learning opportunities that are professional and beyond
The Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment
(HOME), first developed by Dr. Betty Caldwell in 1970, was
used to measure both parental and non-parental home care. It
assesses the degree to which the home provides emotional
support and cognitive stimulation.
The Observational Record of the Caregiving Environment (ORCE),
published in 1996 by the US National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development, was used in almost 18% of the articles.
The ORCE focuses on only the caregiver’s frequency and quality
of behaviours toward children. Because the ORCE evaluates the
caregiver and not the physical and material features of the
environment, it can be used in any setting, the child’s own
home, the home of another caregiver, or a centre. The Belsky
and Walker Spot Observation Checklist (1980) is similar to the
ORCE in its focus on the socio-emotional relationships between
child and caregiver.
Most Frequently Used
Tools for Measuring Child Care Quality
Tools to learn more about the 23 scales used in
the 45 reports to measure quality of care.
Quality of Child Care
The 45 reports directly evaluated the relationship of
child care quality on children’s cognitive,
language, and/or behavioural development. The reports produced
210 individual results. Most results demonstrated that
higher child care quality is linked to better cognitive
and language development. Children’s behaviour, assessed as features of social competence,
emotional maturity, aggression, acting out, compliance,
and so forth, primarily resulted in either null relationships or positive relationships to child
In some reports, the importance of quality of child care was
examined by conducting many assessments of the children’s
development, and in other reports there were only one or two
assessments. Therefore, some reports are represented more
frequently in the bar graph than others.
To evaluate the relationship of child care quality to children’s
development without the influence of multiple tests of the same
category of development in the same report, we gave each report
only one credit for demonstrating or not demonstrating that
quality of child care was related to children’s development.
When the results of a series of repeated tests and subscales
were mixed (positive, null, or negative) in a single report, the
report was coded as “maybe.”
Is Higher Quality Child
Care Related to Better Child Development?
Relationship of Quality to Children's Development
tested the relationship of child care quality to more
than one category of development
The results based on individual tests (+, 0, -) and the
results based on articles are quite similar. Consequently, one
can conclude with some confidence that better child care
quality is related to better achievements in cognitive,
language, and behavioural development. A few studies
demonstrated that the effects of better quality preschool
lasts through school age (Grades 4 and 6).
Is the impact of child care quality more evident in some
children than others?
Of the 45 reports that studied quality of child care, only 4
asked this question directly. One compared White, Hispanic,
and African American children and found that the
quality-to-development relationship was equally important to
all three groups. One article reported that the relationship
was more important to boys, and two found that the
relationship more important to children who were at greater
risk for cognitive and language delays. One article reported
that the development of children from more advantaged homes
(e.g., income, parental education) was not buffered from the
negative effects of poor quality child care.
What type of child care is higher in quality, home or centre?
Of the 45 reports that studied quality of care, only 10 asked
this question directly. Of those that did, 7 found that the
quality of care in centres was better than the quality of care
in home settings and related to better outcomes of children’s
development. Three reports found no differences. As compared
with care given in homes, centre care is more likely to be
regulated with guidelines for facilities, teacher education,
adult child ratio, and class size, and to be less variable.
Knowing that there is a positive relationship between quality
of care and children’s development, and knowing that the
relationship holds well across the 45 reports is not the same
as knowing the strength of the relationship. In other words,
does increasing quality of care meaningfully increase
children’s development and over and above other possible
influences? Researchers working with large datasets have
answered this question in various ways and have arrived at
similar conclusions. The impact is modest but meaningful even
after statistically removing countless other family and
child variables known to influence the course of children’s development (Vandell & Wolf,
2000). The results of quality care were greater in magnitude when
measured in experiments in which the conditions of child care
are controlled and children are randomly assigned to different
conditions. In such experiments, the impact of quality of care
is measured directly instead of being estimated through
statistical manoeuvres amongst other non-randomised factors.
In summary, quality of child care matters to children’s
cognitive, language, and behavioural development whether the
child care is given by the parent, or by an unrelated
caregiver in a centre or in a home. Better child care quality
links to better children’s development. Results are based on
composite measures of quality of care. An informal survey of results of
the 66 reports suggests that no one quality measuring tool
(e.g., ECERS versus the ORCE) seemed more likely than another
to demonstrate a positive relationship with child development.
Highlights of a report on
child care quality.
In addition to the composite factor of quality of child
care, researchers sometimes assessed the relationship to child
development of two specific factors thought to make child care
more effective: teacher education and training, and
adult-child ratio and class size.
Teacher education refers to number of years of
post-secondary school completion including special
courses in early childhood education sometimes referred
to as “training”. Of the 13 reports, 5 reports measured
only years of
teacher education, 3 reports measured only level of teacher training, and
5 reports combined teacher education and training in a
teacher quality rating scale. However defined in the
report, teacher education and/or training were related
to better child
development. Of the 48 individual measures represented
in the bar graph, one subtest of one cognition measure
in one study reported a negative influence of teacher
training. Most of the 13 reports concluded that
caregiver education and training is related to better
Relationship of Teacher
Education and/or Training to Cognition, Language, or
% of Positive Reports
# of Reports
studied relationships of teacher education/training to
more than one category of development
Sixteen of the 45 reports assess adult-child ratio and
class size but in varying ways. Some reports assessed
only one adult-child ration or class size. Some reports
adult-child ratio or class size. Some reports measured
ratio and class size but then combined them in a
composite score. Some reports discussed child-adult
ratios but data were displayed as adult-child
ratios, or the obverse. Some reports measured
adult-child ratios and class size but coded them as a
dichotomy in meeting or not meeting jurisdictional
guidelines. For summary purposes we combined the results
under the rubric of adult-child ratio. Therefore,
the data represented in the figure and table are
summations across any representation of the number of
adults relative to the number of children and/or class
Of the 77 individual measures of the relationship of
adult-child ratio to children’s development, most showed null
effects. The positive relationships, seen more frequently with
respect to language development, indicate that better scores
on language tests are associated with higher adult-child
ratios (more adults per
Adult-Child Ratio and Class Size to Cognition, Language,
studied relationships of teacher education/training to
more than one category of development
Ten reports each compared adult-child ratio and/or class size
to children’s cognitive, language, and behavioural development.
Note that each category does not contain the identical reports; consistency in number (10) is coincidental. One report
assessed only cognition and behaviour and another report only
language. All but one report indicated either a positive or
null relationship with children’s development. One report
assessed all three categories of development and found that
larger class size in the infant-toddler period was correlated
with higher PIAT-Reading scores in childhood.
Higher quality of child care is closely tied to better
cognitive, language, and behavioural development. The
relationship holds when child care quality is measured as a
composite factor by different assessment scales (e.g., ECERS,
ORCE) that measure different components of child care quality.
Two structural components of child care, teacher
education/training and adult-child ratio/class size, are also
tied to better development.
Scorecards for the
results of each report or continue on to
What are the implications of the results?