Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Child care


Harriet Vermeer


Others than mothers and fathers contribute to children’s development. The number of mothers who return to the workforce after childbirth has grown rapidly, whereas fathers generally do not cut down their working hours. Thus, out-of-home child care has become an important environment in which young children’s development is shaped. How do these environments affect children? Are children better or worse off when they are in child care rather than exclusively at home with their parents?

This research cluster examines the impact of child care quality and different types of child care environments (e.g., center-based child care, home-based child care) on children’s social-emotional development. It integrates research areas from the field of attachment theory, psychophysiology, and environmental psychology.

We study both beneficial and detrimental features of child care environments, and differential susceptibility to these environments. Besides the more traditional measures (e.g., caregiver-child interactions), we have included environmental chaos (e.g., noise, crowding) as an important indicator of child care quality. To broaden the range of structural conditions (e.g., group size, quantity of care) that may influence children’s development, cross-country comparisons (e.g., Spanish Basque Country, Chile) are an essential part of this research cluster.

In addition to observational measures, we draw on physiological markers of stress (cortisol) and children’s immune system (Secretory IgA). For example, our studies demonstrated that - both in home-based child care and center-based child care - lower quality of care was associated with higher cortisol levels and lower SIgA levels in children.

Additionally, children displayed higher cortisol levels at child care than at home, irrespective of type of care. Finally, research within this cluster focuses on the improvement of quality of care. The attachment-based intervention VIPP-SD that has proven its effectiveness in families is empirically tested in group settings using randomized controlled trials.

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