When it comes to childcare services, what matters is quality. This idea has been examined many times in this blog.
Although there is so many research on the effects of preschool attendance or childcare management software, we know very little about how differences in service quality affect child development.
This issue is important since, in many countries, including those in Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of children in some form of care outside the home has increased considerably in recent years.
Let’s talk about quality!
We know that the effect of care on child development depends fundamentally on the quality of these services. We also know that the quality of the processes, that is, the frequency, type and nature of interactions between children and their caregivers, is the aspect that matters most.
Our recent publication in the prestigious scientific journal “Journal of Human Resources” contributes to this research agenda.
We study the National Cuna Más Program in Peru, which offers childcare services for children from 6 to 36 months of age in urban areas with high poverty rates. We collected data from 291 Cuna Más centres, two caregivers per centre and more than 2,000 children. We also film the interactions of caregivers with their children, we analyze the videos through a protocol that allows us to rate the quality of interactions between adults and children in this type of environment and measure the development of children in their homes.
We found that children exposed to caregivers who offer higher quality interactions show better cognitive, language and fine motor development.
In addition to the main outcome, the study complements and expands the existing evidence on the quality of childcare services, in three ways:
1. Study babies and toddlers
We decided to focus on children two years of age or younger since it is the age group for which there is little evidence. It is also the age group that we should pay special attention to studies show that socioeconomic gradients among the poorest and richest children appear at a very young age.
2. It focuses on process quality
Most of the studies on the quality of childcare in developing countries have focused on “global” quality measures, that is, on a combination of interactions between caregivers and children, and other aspects of quality, such as safety, hygiene and availability of materials. Given the evidence that exists in the United States about the importance of quality processes for child development, we decided to focus exclusively on this aspect by an observation tool called Classroom Assessment Scoring System [Scoring system for classroom assessment] or CLASS. For the age range of the study, the tool measures the quality of interactions in two areas: emotional and behavioural support, and motivational learning support.
3. Analyze the distributional effects of quality
Several studies in high-income countries have shown that preschool attendance could benefit children with lower levels of development more. We complement these studies by analyzing the association between service quality and child development. While our results showed that this association is significant throughout the distribution of child development, this association seems to be especially strong for children with the lowest levels of development. This has important implications for targeting childcare services to those who need them most and who would benefit most.
In short: the quality of interactions between caregivers and children matters. This means that policymakers must channel efforts and resources to create the conditions that allow training and retention of caregivers capable of offering high-quality interactions to the children in their care.