Child Care Quality: Does It Matter and Does It Need to be Improved? (Full Report). Concurrent Associations between Process Quality and Child Outcomes

05/24/2000

Table 2 is a summary description of results from empirical studies that examined relations between process quality and child developmental outcomes. The description includes sample size, child’s age at the time of the concurrent assessments, the measures of process quality that were used, the measures of structural quality that were used, the controls (if any) for family factors, the child developmental domains that were considered, and a summary of findings.

As is evident is Table 2, some of the available research focuses on relations between process quality measures and child behavior in the child-care setting. Other research considers relations between process quality and child behavior outside of child care. The former set of studies provide descriptions of children’s immediate reactions to caregiving experiences that are emotionally supportive and cognitively enriching versus experiences that are less supportive and enriching. These studies yield firsthand evidence about children’s reactions to care of varying quality. The latter set of studies considers whether reactions to quality experiences are evident in children’s behavior in other settings.

Process Quality and Children’s Behavior in Child Care. Several investigators have delineated systematic relations between process quality and children’s behavior in the child care setting (see Table 2). For example, controlling for child gender and family socioeconomic status, children appear happier in child care settings where activities are developmentally appropriate and caregivers are more involved (Hestenes, Kontos, and Bryan, 1993). Children show more intense negative affect when their caregivers are less involved with them. Children display closer and more secure attachment relationships with their caregivers when the caregivers are more positive and responsive to the children’s needs (Elicker et al., 1999; Howes et al., 1992; Howes and Smith, 1995).

Associations between caregiver-child interactions and children’s interactions with peers also have been reported (see Table 2). Children who have more positive interactions with their caregivers and more secure relationships with their caregivers appear more prosocial and positively engaged with their classmates (Holloway and Reichart-Erickson, 1988; Howes et al., 1992; Kontos and Wilcox-Herzog, 1997). Children who have opportunities to participate in activities such as art, blocks, and dramatic play demonstrate greater cognitive competence during their free play (Kontos and Wilcox-Herzog, 1997). Taken together, these studies suggest that experiences associated with better quality foster competent performance in the child care setting. By the same token, children are less likely to display competent behavior in child care settings characterized by lower process quality.

Process Quality and Children’s Behavior in Other Settings. The next issue is whether process quality is related to children’s behavior in other settings. Several studies (see Table 2) have found higher quality child care is associated with better performance on standardized language tests, even when family characteristics are controlled (Burchinal et al., 1996; Dunn, Beach, and Kontos, 1994; Goelman, 1988; McCartney, 1984; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, in press-b; Peisner-Feinberg and Burchinal, 1997; Schliecker, White, and Jacobs, 1991). These relations are evident when the process measure is a global score such as the ITERS, ECERS, or FDCRS, and when the process measure focuses more narrowly on caregiver language stimulation. It is notable that associations between process quality and language performance are evident for child care that occurs in both centers and homes.

Children’s performance on standardized cognitive tests also has been linked to concurrent process quality. Infants who attend centers with higher ITERS scores receive better scores on the Bayley Mental Development Inventory than infants in poorer quality centers (Burchinal et al., 1996). Similarly, children who attend centers that have higher ECERS scores receive higher scores on the CBI intelligence scale (Dunn, 1993). The Cost, Quality, and Outcome Study reported that higher ECERS scores were associated with better scores on the reading subtest of the Woodcock-Johnson (Peisner-Feinberg and Burchinal, 1997).

Finally, process quality is related to children’s social and emotional functioning. High-quality care as measured by the ECERS is related to greater child interest and participation, whereas poorer process quality is associated with heightened behavior problems (Hausfather, Tohari, LaRoche, and Engelsmann, 1997; Peisner-Feinberg and Burchinal, 1997). The Bermuda Study (Phillips, McCartney, and Scarr, 1987) found higher ECERS scores to predict both caregiver and parent reports of children’s considerateness and sociability, and caregiver reports of children’s higher intelligence and task orientation and less anxiety.

Although the majority of studies (see Table 2) have reported significant relations between process measures of quality and concurrent child functioning, it should be noted that there are exceptions. Scarr and colleagues did not find relations between process quality and children’s social outcomes (McCartney et al., 1997). Measurement problems may have contributed to the lack of findings. For example, observers were only moderately reliable on the measures of quality, with exact agreement of 55–58 percent between sites on the ITERS/ECERS. Cross-site reliability in the classroom observations of children’s social behavior (a key dependent variable) also was poor to moderate, with kappa coefficients ranging from .40 to .76. The likelihood of detecting associations may have been hampered by unreliable measurements.

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