April 19, 2001

            Link Found Between Behavioral  Problems and Time in Child Care


                  WASHINGTON, April 18
                  Researchers conducting the
             largest long-term study of child
             care in the United States said
             today that they had found that
             children who spend most of their time in child care are three
             times as likely to exhibit behavioral problems in kindergarten
             as those who are cared for primarily by their mothers.

             The study followed more than 1,100 children in 10 cities in a
             variety of settings, from care with relatives and nannies to
             preschool and large day care centers. Its conclusions are based
             on ratings of the children by their mothers, those caring for them
             and kindergarten teachers.

             The study, whose detailed results have not been published,
             found a direct correlation between time spent in child care and
             traits like aggression, defiance and disobedience. In interviews
             today, two of its lead researchers said the findings held true
             regardless of the type or quality of care, the sex of the child, the
             family's socioeconomic status or whether mothers themselves
             provided sensitive care.

             "As time goes up, so do behavior problems,"said Dr. Jay
             Belsky, one of the study's principal investigators.

             Dr. Belsky said children who spent more than 30 hours a week
             in child care "are more demanding, more noncompliant, and
             they are more aggressive." He added, "They scored higher on
             things like gets in lots of fights, cruelty, bullying, meanness, as
             well as talking too much, demands must be met immediately."

             The research, financed by the National Institute on Child Health
             and Human Development, a branch of the National Institutes of
             Health, has not undergone the rigorous scientific evaluation
             known as peer review. But the long-running study is widely
             regarded as the most comprehensive examination of child care
             to date. In 1996, the same group of researchers concluded that
             using day care centers or baby sitters did not affect infants' trust
             in their mothers.

             Dr. Belsky said he would present the findings on Thursday in
             Minneapolis at a meeting of the Society for Research in Child
             Development. His announcement will undoubtedly inflame a
             debate that has continued for years over whether it is better for
             mothers to work or stay home. Dr. Belsky helped set off that
             debate in 1986 when he published an article suggesting that
             child care posed a risk of developmental problems.

             Some experts on work and family life are already questioning
             the study's results. Perhaps, said Ellen Galinsky, president of
             the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research
             organization in New York, "it's not being in child care that is
             the problem, it's that employed parents are tired and stressed."

             And Claudia Wayne, former director of the Center for the Child
             Care Workforce, a group that advocates improving the quality
             of child care, suggested that quality might indeed be an issue
             because most child care was mediocre.

             Thirteen million preschoolers, including six million infants and
             toddlers, are in child care in this country, according to the
             Children's Defense Fund in Washington. Nearly 30 percent of
             American children are in child care centers, while 15 percent
             are with family child care providers and 5 percent are with
             in-home caregivers, the organization says. Another 25 percent
             are cared for by relatives, which was defined as child care in
             the N.I.H. study. Roughly one- fourth are cared for by their

             The researchers conducting the study did not have an
             explanation for why some children in child care might become
             more aggressive or disobedient. "That is the most pregnant
             research agenda," said Dr. Belsky, a developmental
             psychologist who two years ago left Penn State University, one
             of the study sites, for the University of London.

             But they do have some theories, said Dr. Sarah Friedman, who
             is coordinating the project for the child health institute. It is
             possible, she said, that child care providers are not trained to
             give emotional support. And Ms. Galinsky's explanation, that
             parents are overworked, is a plausible one, Dr. Friedman said.

             The researchers are tracking the children to see if the problems
             persist, and they cautioned against drawing conclusions that
             children in day care would turn out to be violent.

             Dr. Friedman said the children's behavior, while demanding
             and aggressive, was "in the normal range," not so severe it
             required medical attention.

             "We cannot and should not hide the findings," she said, "but I
             don't want to create a mass hysteria when I don't know what
             explains these results."

             The study, called the N.I.C.H.D. Study of Early Child Care,
             began in 1990 in 10 cities, including Little Rock, Ark., Irvine,
             Calif., and Charlottesville, Va. It defined child care as care by
             anyone other than the child's mother that was routinely
             scheduled for at least 10 hours per week.

             When the researchers examined behavioral ratings for children
             who were in care for more than 30 hours per week, they found
             that 17 percent of them were regarded by teachers, mothers and
             caregivers as being aggressive toward other children. That is
             compared with 6 percent for the group of children in child care
             for less than 10 hours a week.

             There were some surprising findings. Children who spent more
             time in child care were initially rated as being more fearful and
             sad than other children, but the differences disappeared by

             And there was one positive note: children who spent more time
             in child care centers, as opposed to other types of child care, in
             the first four and a half years of life were more likely to display
             better language skills and have better short- term memory. The
             researchers said they had not teased out whether these children
             were the same ones who were at increased risk of behavioral


April 21, 2001

            Public Lives: Another Academic Salvo in the Nation's 'Mommy Wars'


                 WASHINGTON - Jay Belsky
                  was 33 years old, a rising
             young star in the discipline of
             human development, when he
             received what he now calls "my
             lesson in the science of political
             correctness and the Mommy

             The year was 1986; Dr. Belsky
             was an associate professor at
             Pennsylvania State University.
             Eight years earlier, he had won
             accolades for research showing
             that, despite the anxiety over child
             care, the children were not
             suffering. Working mothers everywhere had breathed a sigh of

             And then their savior changed his mind.

             "A slow, steady trickle of evidence," Dr. Belsky recalls, had
             built up to persuade him that infants who spent long hours in
             child care were at risk of behavioral problems later on. He
             published his views in a little-known newsletter, under the
             headline "Infant Day Care: A Cause for Concern?" And he
             opened with a personal disclaimer: his two young sons were
             cared for by their stay-at-home mother.

             It was as if he had advocated infanticide.

             "I was a pariah," Dr. Belsky says, "a phantom."

             Colleagues shunned him at scientific meetings. A textbook he
             co-wrote wouldn't sell; the publisher removed his name from
             the second edition. Critics called him a misogynist, and worse.
             At the height of the frenzy, Dr. Belsky remembers, he gave a talk
             in New York. Scanning the crowd, he felt a flash of paranoia: "I
             thought, somebody is going to walk down this aisle and shoot

             This week, Dr. Belsky, now 48 and a professor at the
             University of London, felt those old twinges once again. This
             time, the city was Minneapolis. There he presented results from
             a comprehensive study of child care, led by more than a dozen
             researchers and paid for by the National Institutes of Health,
             that was initiated a decade ago, largely to address criticisms of
             his earlier work.

             Once again, the news was not upbeat: the more time young
             children spent being cared for by someone other than their
             mothers, the more likely they were to be aggressive, demanding
             and disobedient as kindergartners. (In the group studied
             1,100 children in 10 cities only a small amount of care was
             provided by fathers, Dr. Belsky said.)

             And once again, Dr. Belsky, now feeling ever so slightly
             vindicated, is ruffling feathers. In an interview, he seemed as
             though he rather enjoys it. Or at least, he has gotten used to it.

             "I'm not a person who is the least bit hesitant to say the
             politically incorrect thing, to challenge the status quo," he said
             early Friday morning, having spent the previous day making the
             rounds on television. "I have a reputation of being a difficult
             person. But one of the reasons I'm a difficult person is because I
             won't lie down and play dead."

             That difficult streak did not begin in childhood, Dr. Belsky
             believes; he describes himself as quite straight-laced and
             dutiful as a boy. He grew up on Long Island, in Valley Stream.
             His parents owned a luncheonette on 39th Street in Manhattan,
             and he fondly recalls working summers there.

             "I can say, in complete objectivity, that my father's corned beef
             and pastrami sandwiches rivaled those of all the famous delis."

             As a child, he dreamed of attending West Point not to
             become a soldier, but "to serve my country." He applied and
             was accepted, only to decline because he had concluded that the
             Vietnam War was misguided. He wound up instead at
             Georgetown University, where, he says, he was struck by "a
             classic identity crisis" that was resolved when he spotted a
             classmate with a bunch of preschoolers in tow.

             "Where did you get those?" Dr. Belsky remembers asking,
             somewhat flippantly. His friend, it turned out, volunteered at a
             campus day care center.

             In short order, Dr. Belsky signed up. He had found his calling.
             He transferred to Vassar College, because it had a nursery
             school, graduated in 1974 and went on to obtain a doctorate in
             human development at Cornell, where he wrote the child care
             paper that brought him his initial acclaim.

             When he joined the faculty of Penn State, he and his wife, Ann,
             from whom he is now divorced, helped create an infant
             day-care program. But around the same time, Dr. Belsky said,
             his review of the literature on child care began to nag at him.

             One study, he said, linked child care to tantrums, a finding he
             and others had dismissed because it was based on mothers'
             reports. Another connected child care to problems with the
             infant-mother bond, but was discounted because it involved
             only the poor.

             "It got to the point," Dr. Belsky said, "where I felt like a pretzel,
             twisting and turning, trying to explain these things away. By
             1986, I said, `I can't do this anymore.' "

             TODAY, some of the same scientists who attacked Dr. Belsky's
             1986 warning as ill-considered and flawed are his co- authors
             on the N.I.H. research. Most of them are women, and Dr. Belsky
             is not shy about saying he thinks he breeds extra resentment
             because he is a man.

             He notes, quite pointedly, that while he was criticized for
             keeping his children out of day care, his colleagues were never
             criticized for putting theirs in.

             As for the study's findings, researchers have still not answered
             the biggest question: what might cause a link between day care
             and aggression? The study ruled out socioeconomic status and
             quality of care, although some of Dr. Belsky's co-authors still
             think quality is a factor. He bristles at the suggestion, yet says at
             the same time that the days of his "knockdown, drag-out battles"
             appear to be over.

             "At least," he said, `'I don't feel like I'm being hung in effigy

             April 22, 2001 - NYT

            Science, Studies and Motherhood


               BEFORE working mothers
                drown themselves in guilt
             over the release last week of a
             study that said children who spend
             long hours in child care are more
             likely to have behavioral problems
             in kindergarten, they should stop
             and consider not only what science
             can reveal, but what it cannot.

             Studies of human behavior make
             good headlines, but they can be
             fraught with complications. Earlier
             this year, for example, a team at
             Stanford University published a
             study showing that children who
             cut back on television and video
             games were less likely to tease or
             bully their peers during recess.

             But a lot of things influence the way children behave at recess
             whether they ate enough for lunch, or who they sat with. So it
             is difficult, experts said, to measure the influence of video

             Divorce is another case in point. In recent years, researchers
             have compared children of divorced couples to those whose
             parents stuck together despite marital strain and concluded that
             those in intact families fare better. But James Robins, a
             professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Harvard
            School of Public Health, says such studies are inevitably

             "It's not a fair comparison," Dr. Robins says. "You are almost
             certainly going to find that children of divorce do worse
             because the people who get divorced are probably the people
             whose fighting is worse. So even if the truth was that it is better
             for parents to divorce, you would get the wrong answer."

             Most experts agree the new child care study, the largest of its
             kind ever conducted, is extremely rigorous. But even the
             researchers who conducted it say it raises as many questions as
             it answers. For instance, the study looked only at time spent
             away from mothers, not fathers. And though it found 17 percent
             of children in long-term child care experienced behavioral
             problems later on, 83 percent of them did just fine.

             The study was what epidemiologists call observational
             research, as opposed to a controlled experiment. In a controlled
             experiment, children would have been compared after being
             assigned, or "randomized," to child care or home with their
             mothers. That would be unethical, so researchers drew
             conclusions based on their own observations and those of
             mothers, caregivers and kindergarten teachers.

             But there is "a potentially fatal flaw" with observational
             studies, says Donald Berry, chairman of the department of bio-
             statistics at the University of Texas. "Inferring cause and effect
             is not possible."

             So even though the study was paid for by the National Institutes
             of Health, the nation's premier scientific institution, and
             conducted by some of country's most respected child
             development experts, there are holes in it. It shows only a link
             between time spent in child care and aggressive behavior. It
             does not explain why a youngster in child care might be more
             likely to be aggressive or disobedient. And it certainly does not
             prove that child care itself is the cause.

             "Maybe the kind of mothers who put their children in day care
             are more stressed out, and the child feels some of the stress,"
             said Dr. Robins, the Harvard epidemiologist. "Maybe women
             are more likely to put rambunctious kids into day care, and so it
             is the selection of kids who have problems being put into day
             care, rather than day care causing problems. That's what you
             can't tell from observational studies."

             And controlled experiments often prove observational studies
             wrong. For example, Dr. Berry notes that, based on
             observational studies, thousands of women were given bone
             marrow transplants for breast cancer. Insurance companies paid
             for the costly and drastic procedure. But two years ago, a series
             of randomized experiments showed the transplants were no
             better than conventional therapy.

             Science is like a puzzle, says Dr. Christopher Forrest, associate
             professor of pediatrics and health policy at Johns Hopkins
             University. "Until you fill all the pieces in, you can't say a
             relationship has been proven."

             And how do you fill the pieces in? The finding has to be
             reproduced, and the researchers need to discover a mechanism,
             a plausible explanation for their results. Dr. Forrest points to
             the case of lung cancer and cigarettes.

             The initial evidence, he said, was observational. Scientists
             found a "dose-response relationship" between smoking and
             disease: the more a person smoked, the greater the likelihood of
             sickness. They found a temporal relationship: smoking preceded
             cancer. But still, the tobacco industry could claim that there was
             no proof. That did not change, Dr. Forrest said, until molecular
             biologists showed smoking caused genetic changes in the lung.
             Now, he said, the industry "can no longer say there is no
             connection, it's not proven."

             "They had that last piece of the puzzle," he said.

             THE child care researchers do have some pieces of the puzzle
             in place. Their study, like the early lung cancer research, found
             a dose-response relationship: the more time a child spent in
             child care, the greater the likelihood there would be behavioral
             problems in kindergarten. But determining what causes a
             behavior can be even more complicated than determining the
             cause of a disease. And the researchers themselves have very
             different ideas about where to look.

             Dr. Jay Belsky, of the University of London, who presented the
             results last week in Minneapolis at a meeting of the Society for
             Research on Child Development, speculates that the
             psychological stress children experience at the end of the day,
             when they are reunited with their parents, might breed
             aggression and disobedience. But another principal
             investigator, Dr. Deborah Phillips, of Georgetown University,
             has an entirely different theory: although the study found quality
             of child care made no difference, she thinks a closer look will
             show that mediocre care is to blame.

             These nuances, of course, are lost in the sound-bite debate the
             findings have generated. We live in a whipsaw world, where
             scientists produce a dizzying stream of research, and each new
             study seems to contradict the previous one. Is estrogen good for
             heart disease, or isn't it? Do cell phones cause brain cancer, or
             don't they? Scientists trust that the answers to such questions
             will emerge over time, through the accumulation of a body of
             evidence. But the public wants answers now.

             "The public reads the bottom line," Dr. Forrest says. "They act
             on that without putting the study into context. In politics, there is
             always a context. The same is true for science, but it doesn't get
             reported that way."
A day care center, the sort of place in which bullies are bred, according to a new study.

Angel Franco/The New York Times