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Growing Up

Does sending a kid to childcare or caring for them at home make any difference to their development?

The question has been addressed in a new ESRI study.

CHILDCARE HAS NO effect on the cognitive development of young children compared to caring for them at home, a new study indicates.

The ESRI and Trinity College Dublin today publishes the latest Growing Up in Ireland report, detailing the effects on a child’s cognitive development as a result of early childcare.

Starting childcare, such as a creche, at an early age (by the time the child is nine months old) had no effect on children’s cognitive outcomes at age 5, the ESRI said.

However, long hours of care, classed as 30 hours or more, had a “small negative effect” on vocabulary at age three.

The report also notes that differences in quality were not taken into account

“Therefore we cannot rule out the possibility that high quality care has a beneficial effect while poor quality childcare has a negative impact,” the report’s authors said.

Commenting on the findings, report author Dr Helen Russell:

The first five years of life are of critical importance in children’s cognitive development.

“This study highlights that when tested at age 5, children who attended childcare at age 3 did as well as those cared for solely by their parents,” she explained.

A key issue for the future is evaluating the quality of care received in different settings.

The report found the main influences on children’s cognitive outcomes:

  • The child’s gender
  • Language spoken at home
  • Number of older siblings
  • Parents’ education
  • Parenting practices
  • Home learning environment

The report also found that by age five, 96% of the 9,000 children surveyed had taken part in the Free Pre-school Year.

“22% of parents said they would not have been able to afford to send their child to pre-school without the Free Pre-school Year,” the ESRI said in a statement.

This figure rose to 36% among parents in the lowest income quintile and 38% of parents with low education.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly said the report found that “many children and parents would not be in a position to avail of pre-school without this free universal scheme”.

“These combined findings provide valuable information for ongoing policy discussions relating to early years provision and matters of choice and quality.”

Debate Room: Should school start earlier to help working parents? >

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