With these methodological challenges in mind, we turn to the conceptual framework that guides our evaluation of child care quality. This model is presented in Figure 2.
A central feature in the model is an awareness that children are not randomly assigned to child care. Child care quality is expected to be related to family characteristics including demographic, psychological, and attitudinal differences. Because these family characteristics—income, parental education, maternal sensitivity, stimulating and supportive home environments—also can predict children’s developmental outcomes, it is necessary to control for them. Otherwise, quality effects may be overestimated or underestimated. As shown in the model, research also needs to take into account other child care parameters, such as amount of care and type of care, that may be confounded with quality or that may contribute independently to child outcomes.
Children’s developmental outcomes are considered in relation to process quality and in relation to structural and caregiver characteristics. Specifically, the model posits that process quality is directly related to child developmental outcomes. Structural and caregiver characteristics are posited to be indirectly related to child outcomes, through their influence on process quality. It is expected that structural and caregiver characteristics also directly influence child outcomes in ways that are not mediated through the available measures of process quality. In the sections that follow, research findings pertaining to this model are considered in terms of concurrent relations between child care quality and children’s development, and in terms of longer-term associations between child care quality and child adjustment.
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