Benefits of High-Quality Child Care

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When children attend child care, they’re accessing more than just a room to stay in and a caregiver to watch them. Rather, they gain access to supportive, nurturing environments and qualified professionals who have been trained to foster their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. As stated by Start Strong PA in The Case for High-Quality Infant and Toddler Child Care, “children that participate in high-quality early learning programs beginning as infants, such as those in the Abecedarian and Perry Preschool Projects, have positive long-term and multigenerational effects in education, employment, and health.”

The Perry Preschool Project

In May 2019, the Heckman Equation released their research that assesses the outcomes of children at midlife who attended Perry Preschool, an experimental high-quality preschool program for disadvantaged African-American children in the 1960s. When comparing the lifelong outcomes of Perry Preschool participants and the control group, the Heckman Equation found that Perry Preschool participants:

    • achieved higher test scores and graduation rates;
    • were less likely to be suspended, addicted, or arrested;
    • were more likely to be employed full-time or self-employed; and
    • were more likely to earn higher wages, own a house, and own a car later in life.

Additionally, the Heckman Equation assessed intergenerational effects, with the children of Perry Preschool participants demonstrating “substantial second-generational effects on education, employment, crime, school suspensions, and health.” These effects include being less likely to be suspended from school, more likely to complete regular or any other form of high school, and more likely to be employed full-time with some college experience.

To learn more about the Perry Preschool Project, visit the Heckman Equation website or read this article published by The Hechinger Report.

The Carolina Abecedarian Project

Similarly, the Carolina Abecedarian Project conducted an experiment with children born between 1972 and 1977, randomly assigning infants to either an early educational intervention group or to a control group. Children in the early educational intervention group received full-time, high-quality educational intervention in a child care setting from infancy through age five. Results from the study aligned closely with those of the Perry Preschool Project, demonstrating that children who experienced high-quality early care and education settings were more likely to experience positive education, employment, and health effects. These effects include, but are not limited to:

    • scoring higher on achievement tests in math and reading during their elementary and secondary school years;
    • experiencing lower levels of grade retention and fewer placements in special education classes;
    • being more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree, hold a job, and delay parenthood;
    • being less likely to report depressive symptoms;
    • lower rates of prehypertension in their mid-30s; and
    • significantly lower risk of experiencing total coronary heart disease within the next 10 years.

Principal Investigator Frances Campbell stated that “many factors might have contributed to the sustained and substantial health benefits now seen for study participants in their mid-thirties: more intensive pediatric monitoring; improved nutrition; a predictable and less stressful early child care experience; and improved adult education.” However, even without identifying a specific mechanism that improved health outcomes, project scientists “agree that early childhood interventions are an encouraging avenue of health policy to explore.”

To learn more visit the Carolina Abecedarian Project website or read an article that explores the Carolina Abecedarian Project’s groundbreaking follow-up studies.

Impact on Parents and Caregivers

While the Carolina Abecedarian Project primarily assessed the lifelong outcomes of young children, it also provided relevant information on the “unmistakable advantages” for teenage mothers with children in the study. The report summary concludes that by the time children were four and a half years old, teenage mothers were:

    • more likely to have finished high school and undergone post-secondary training;
    • more likely to experience increased earnings and decreased reliance on social assistance;
    • more like to to be self-supporting;
    • and less likely to have more children.

An important concept that caregivers, stakeholders, and the community can take away from these studies is that investing in high-quality early learning for young children is worth every penny. In fact, the Carolina Abecedarian Project found that “for every dollar spent on the program, taxpayers saved $2.50 as a result of: higher incomes; a lesser need for educational and government services; and reduced health care costs.”

Outside of this study, access to affordable, high-quality child care enables parents and caregivers of all ages to enter, re-enter, or remain in the workforce; pursue education or professional development opportunities; and access credentialed professionals who use a curriculum, lesson plans, and activities to support their child’s learning and development. When investments are made in early childhood, society, children, and caregivers reap the benefits.

Conclusion

Meeting the needs of families and young children should be a high priority for local, state, and national legislators and stakeholders. With that, it is important for parents and caregivers of young children to understand the importance of high-quality, to be able to identify high-quality indicators, and to understand the tools and resources available to them to access affordable high-quality child care. To explore these topics and more, use the navigation section below.

 

Preschool kids play with tricycles and peddle cars

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

 

Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
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