High-quality child care and positive parenting practices are both important to early child development, such as better behaviors, social skills, school readiness. Research has indicated that, however, families without adequate resources are likely to limit their choice to low-quality child care. Also, the use of some care types is related to less maternal engagement and fewer positive parenting practices, which may lead to increased risk of negative child development. Particularly, child care provided by relatives is often assumed more accessible and affordable support, especially for fragile families, but often considered poor quality. In order to ensure positive early childhood development, it is critical to examine the role of both child care and parenting. Thus, this study attempts to address the inquires: (1) Is the use of child care or parenting practice more influential on child development? (2) Does the relationship between parenting practice and child development differ by child care types (i.e., relative care vs. other child care types)?
Data from the three-year (Y3) and five-year (Y5) Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) were analyzed. The sample includes 2,649 mothers who provided valid data at these two waves. Child developmental outcomes (dependent variable) include child health, internalizing, and externalizing behaviors. Child care types (independent variable) include relative care, parental care, center-based care, and non-relative home care. Parenting practices (independent variable) are constructed as physical aggression, psychological aggression, neglect, and positive parenting. Covariates include child gender; mother’s age, race, education, parenting stress; and family structure and income level. To answer the first question, hierarchical Ordinary Lest Squares regressions were modeled to examine the association between Y3 parenting practices and child care and Y5 child developmental outcomes. To answer the second question, further analyses were conducted to examine the effects of interactions parenting practices and child care types in the models.
Findings from the analyses suggest that parenting practices present a more significant role, than child care, in predicting child development. For example, neglectful parenting is associated with poorer child health (β = -.15, p < .01) and more internalizing (β = .07, p < .001) and externalizing behaviors (β = .07, p < .001). Harsh parenting is associated with more child externalizing behaviors (physical aggression: β = .04, p < .01; psychological aggression: β = .002, p < .001). Child care is found only associated with child externalizing behaviors; specifically, children in relative care present more externalizing problems than those in parental care (β = -.04, p < .01). Findings regarding the interactions do not show moderating effects.
Conclusions and Implications:
The current findings suggest that although child care may help parents with respite for childrearing, mothers own parenting practices are more significant to child development, regardless the type of child care chosen. Programs for mothers of fragile families are necessary to develop parenting training and support for reducing harsh parenting. Practitioners can help cultivate positive parent-child relationship, especially for those spending less time with their children due to the utilization of child care.