Studies point to latent problems in childcare

NZ Herald Jan 28, 2010

An escalating trend to place pre-verbal infants into childcare has sparked an inquiry by Children’s Commissioner John Angus. The number of children under 2 in childcare leaped 47 per cent in the nine years to last July and now includes 25 per cent of all infants under 2. With 57 per cent of 2-year-olds also in care, New Zealand’s total of 36 per cent of all those under 3 in childcare is now among the highest in the world – in 2005, when the NZ figure was 32 per cent, we were seventh-highest out of 28 OECD nations. Dr Angus has raised concerns about the resulting risks for reduced breastfeeding, disrupted attachment to parents, more exposure to infectious diseases, more stressful interactions and aggressive behaviour.

National Women’s Hospital paediatrician Simon Rowley, a trustee of the Brainwave Trust, says research has found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise during the day for infants in childcare, in contrast to the normal pattern of being high in the morning and falling through the day. “The first two years of life is when you develop one of the most important relationships in your life, the attachment relationship you have with one or two primary caregivers,” Dr Rowley says. “That relationship then becomes a template for your subsequent relationships. “You can’t do that if you’re being looked after by mostly disinterested multiple caregivers, which is what sometimes happens in childcare. My hunch is we’re going to look back in 25 years and say, how could we have got it so wrong?”