Characteristics and quality of child care for toddlers and preschoolers

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

307 Scopus citations


In this article, we use data from the National Institute of Child Health andHumanDevelopment (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999) to answer 3 questions. The first question is: What structural features and caregiver characteristics predict more positive caregiver behavior in child care for 1- to 3-year-old children? Positive caregiving was assessed in 5 types of care (centers, child-care homes, and care provided by in-home sitters, grandparents, and fathers) when children in the NICHD study were 15, 24, and 36 months of age (Ns= 612, 630, and 674). Across ages and types of care, positive caregiving was more likely when child–adult ratios and group sizes were smaller, caregivers were more educated, held more child-centered beliefs about childrearing, and had more experience in child care, and environments were safer and more stimulating. The second question is: What differences in caregiving are associated with the type of child care and the child’s age? The highest level of positive caregiving was provided by in-home caregivers, including fathers and grandparents, caring for only 1 child, closely followed by home-based arrangements with relatively few children per adult. The least positive caregiving was found in center-based care with higher ratios of children to adults. By 36 months of age, the significance of child–adult ratio decreased, and in-home arrangements became less positive. The third question is: What is the overall quality of child care for 1- to 3-year-olds in the United States? Observed positive caregiving was determined to be “very uncharacteristic” for 6% of the children in the NICHD sample, “somewhat uncharacteristic” for 51%, “somewhat characteristic” for 32%, and “highly characteristic” for 12%. An extrapolation to the quality of care in the United States was derived by applyingNICHDobservational parameters, stratified by maternal education, child age, and care type, to the distribution of American families documented in the National Household Education Survey (Hofferth, Shauman, Henke, & West, 1998). Positive caregiving was extrapolated to be “very uncharacteristic” for 8% of children in the United States ages 1 to 3 years, “somewhat uncharacteristic” for 53%, “somewhat characteristic” for 30%, and “highly characteristic” for 9%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-135
Number of pages20
JournalApplied Developmental Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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