Do Child Care Arrangements and Structured Out of School Activities Mediate Poverty Effects

Children from low-income families are most likely to receive home-based and low-quality child care and less likely to participate in center-based care and structured out of school activities. These patterns point to working poor and near-poor families as those whose children may be most at risk for extended exposure to poor-quality care centers and less likely to be involved in structured activities that may lead to the enrichment and development of skills and competencies.

Correlational, longitudinal, and experimental research also identifies the quality of child care and participation in organized activities as important contributors to children's intellectual and academic development and probably to social-emotional competence as well. The next step in testing a media-tional model is to determine whether features of child care and the types of out of school activities account for the relations of family poverty to children's outcomes. The evidence available is somewhat conflicting.

On the one hand, high quality early intervention programs can improve cognitive and academic performance for children from impoverished families, counteracting some of the disadvantage associated with poverty (Devaney, Ellwood, & Love, 1997; McLoyd, 1997). Studies of settings in the typical range of child-care quality have, however, produced mixed results. An analysis of three studies produced no evidence that child-care quality mattered more for poor than for nonpoor children (Burchinal, Peisner-Feinberg, Bryant, & Clifford, 2000), but in earlier analyses of the NICHD SECC, child-care quality had stronger effects on cognitive performance at age 3 for children from poor families than for those from higher income families (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2001). However, child-care quality did not predict positive or problem behavior differently for low-income and higher-income children at age 3 (NICHD ECCRN, 2001).

Observational and experimental data suggest, however, that the type of child care received mediates some of the early effects of poverty. A large-scale observational study of children from low-income families shows that center care experience predicts improvement in preacademic and cognitive skills (Loeb et al., 2004). In the Next Generation project, we evaluated the effects of exposure to center-based care by examining the effects of the experimental impacts on parents' use of center care. These analyses are free of possible confounding family and child factors that might influence both the type of child care chosen and the child's behavior.

We noted previously that programs that provided additional child-care assistance, beyond that available to control group families, led parents to use more center-based child care and less home-

based care with relatives or family child-care providers (Crosby et al. 2004). This was particularly true in New Hope (Huston et al. 2001; 2003). Center-based care, in turn, contributed to children's later school achievement and to lower levels of behavior problems as reported by teachers (Crosby, Dowsett, Gennetian, & Huston, 2004; Gennetian et al., 2004).

Similarly, the New Hope program had strong effects on access to formal child care, extended day care in schools, and structured out-of-school activities, all of which appear to be important paths by which the New Hope impacts on children occurred (Huston et al., 2001; Huston et al., 2003). If that is correct, there are clear public policy implications. Public policy can readily increase availability of child care, after-school activities, and other opportunities for supervised, structured activities for children, which may, in turn, significantly alter developmental trajectories for young boys and girls in low-income families.

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