Friday, December 21, 2007

Study: Institutional Care Hurts Kids' IQ

"Any number of factors common to institutions could work to delay or blunt intellectual development, experts say: the regimentation, the indifference to individual differences in children’s habits and needs; and most of all, the limited access to caregivers."

The New York Times
quote refers to a new study proving that children raised in orphanages have a lower IQ than those raised by foster parents. The foster children had an average IQ 8 points (1/2 of a standard deviation) higher at age 4 than those in the orphanages, and the younger the child moved to foster care, the greater the improvement in IQ. Both groups, however, had significantly lower I.Q.’s than a comparison group of children raised by their biological families.

This study raises an interesting question about what effect spending long hours in institutional care at a very young age might have on other children. In 2005, 51% of all U.S. infants and toddlers were in some form of non-parental care. 55% of children aged 0-5 in non-parental care were in group care (either center-based or at the provider's home). If regimentation, indifference to individual needs, and limited access to caregivers makes institutional care bad for orphans, might those same factors make group day care bad for other young children?

Let me be clear that I'm not trying to bash employed moms here- many of them are in the workforce out of economic necessity and feel tremendous guilt about putting their kids in day care. I used to be one of them! My oldest went to a center 3 days/week from 9-20 mos. and then full-time from 20-36 mos. It broke my heart to send her there but we needed my salary and health insurance coverage and my income was not high enough to afford a nanny. I am so thankful that we are now in a better financial position such that I can be a full-time homemaker. But I realize that the ridiculously high cost of living these days puts that out of reach for many families :-(

Perhaps it is time to examine a paid parental leave system similar to the ones found in most 1st world countries. In the U.K., moms receive 90% of their salary for 6 weeks and then a flat rate of approximately $224/wk for another 33 weeks. In Canada, moms receive up to 55% of salary for 50 weeks. Germany offers 12 mos. at 67%. Norway gives 54 weeks at 80%. Sweden gives 16 mos. at up to 80%.

It would be expensive to offer paid leave to all moms, but I suspect it might be cost-effective for society in the long run. Aside from the militant feminists, who really thinks that it is better for babies to be in non-parental than parental care? How many of the social problems in this country would be reduced if children spent the first year of life at home with a parent?

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