Studies carried out at the Thomas Coram Research Unit took into consideration factors other than separation from the mother when evaluating the consequences of childcare. These included the quality of care provided, staff turnover and their childcare experience. Melhuish et al (1990a, 1990b) assessed and compared children’s development in different situations; children cared for by a relative, children cared for by a childminder and children placed in a nursery. There were assessed at 18 months old and again after they had been in one of the day-care environments for several months. Interestingly, their findings were both positive and negative for different forms of childcare.
For example children placed in nurseries were found on one hand to be more empathic with others, better at sharing and participating in groups and on the other hand were found to be more aggressive, moody and less attentive in comparison to the children in alternative childcare. Researchers contribute some of the negative findings for children in nurseries to the poor quality of care, high turnover of staff and low-level adult-child interaction. It is interesting to note that in other studies where the quality of care was high, the differences found between children in day care nurseries and children not in day care were positive and more in favour of the day-care children (ED209 TV4 programme)
It is important to bear in mind that different kinds of families may choose different kinds of day-care for example parents who use full-time infant care may be under more financial strain than other parents. Additionally, in some cases a child that is extremely outgoing and sociable may be better suited to attending day care whereas a shyer, less confident child may be better off in their home environment. This notion of taking individual differences and circumstances into account is encapsulated in the ‘goodness of fit’ approach (Thomas and Chess, 1977). Evidence has shown that the ‘goodness of fit’ between a child’s behaviour and the day-care environment in which attachment takes place does influence the attachment styles that children develop (Stevenson and Oates, 1994; Woodhead, 1994)
Furthermore, research shows that infants own characteristics influence their mothers responsiveness, and thus indirectly the security of attachment. Crockenburg (1981) found that babies who were irritable after birth were less likely to attract responsive care from their mother and also less likely to develop a secure attachment with their mothers as assessed in the strange situation. The transactional model (Oates, 1994) takes into account this bi-directional reciprocal relationship between caregivers and their children, thereby supporting a more interactive model of attachment which better explains the active contribution of children, their caregivers and the day-care context in developing attachment styles of individuals.
The foregoing discussion clearly shows that it’s not possible generalise about the implications of day-care on attachment. There are many factors to be taken into account for example the circumstances surrounding a mother’s decision to work full time, the nature and age of the child and the different forms of child care available. As has been discussed, it is very important to match or find a ‘good fit’ between the child’s behaviour and the type of care he/she receives.
Fortunately, the body of recent research and evidence supports this view and highlights the shift in developmental psychology away from the universal monotropic model of attachment towards a more flexible perspective which emphasises the importance individual differences and cultural context, namely that of the social cultural perspective. Nonetheless, the work of Bowlby and Ainsworth has been very important and cannot be disregarded. It has provided a base for future researchers to explore attachment and different forms of childcare which is and will continue to be a central issue in developmental psychology.
Ainsworth, M.D.S and Wittig, B.A. (1969), cited in Cowie (1995), p.14 Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E. and Wall, S. (1978), cited in Cowie (1995), p.13 Belsky, J. (1988) cited in Cowie (1995), p.19 Bowlby, J. (1951) cited in Cowie (1995), p.6