Five-year-olds cared for in creches for the first three years of life are, overall, as emotionally and socially healthy as children looked after at home, according to a new report.
The study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) finds that a range of other factors are of far greater importance for five-year-olds’ emotional and social wellbeing than whether they were cared for in a creche or at home. These include social class, mental health of parents, number of parents, children’s own health and their gender.
High quality care in a centre can actually offset the potential negative impacts of social disadvantage and family factors, the report notes.
The study, Childcare, Early Education and Socio-Emotional Outcomes at Age 5, draws on data and interviews with parents and teachers of up to 11,000 children, for the Growing Up in Ireland study. Parents were interviewed when children were nine months, 36 months and five years old; the teachers of the five-year-olds were also interviewed.
Different childcare types have some influence on the socio-emotional development of children, but overall this is small.
Care provided by relatives at age three was assessed by parents as giving rise to somewhat fewer socio-emotional difficulties and by teachers and parents to result in better social skills by age five.
Children cared for by non-relatives, such as a childminder, at age three were rated by parents and teachers as having fewer emotional difficulties than children in full-time parental care.
Those in centre-based care at age three were said by teachers to have slightly more socio-emotional difficulties at age five, compared to those who had been cared for by parents only.
However, parents rated their five-year-olds who had been in centre-based care at age three to have fewer emotional and peer problems, but marginally higher conduct problems, compared to children in full-time parental care.
However, when both parents’ and teachers’ views were combined to form an overall score, “there was no difference between the two groups”, says the report.
Dr Helen Russell, one of the report's authors, said the findings provided "critical insights into what factors promote children's socio-emotional development, which is essential for their current wellbeing and also their ability to settle into school and for their longer-term educational attainment.
“We find some evidence that access to centre-based care provides more beneficial effects for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, but the effects are small and not enough to level the playing field. The quality of care is likely to be crucial.”