Quality early childcare shows strong results of adult educational attainment

Following a 30 year study in the US, researchers have found that adults who participated in a high-quality early childhood education program from 0-5 years are still benefiting from the experience as they are more likely to be continuously employed and graduate from university.

The Abecedarian Project was a carefully controlled scientific study of the potential benefits of early childhood education for children from low-income families who were at risk of developmental delays or academic failure.

Researchers followed 111 infants (98 percent of whom were African-American) born between 1972 and 1977, who were randomly assigned to either an early educational intervention group or a control group. Of the original 111 participants 101 completed the project, where the children were monitored over time with follow up studies conducted at ages 12, 15, 21 and 30.

The study published in this month's Developmental Psychology journal explains how full-time specialised childcare that involved activities focussed on social, emotional, and cognitive areas of development by individualising educational activities and games with particular emphasis on language, is key to academic achievement and social competence in adulthood.

The study found that the children who received early childhood intervention were more likely to have consistent employment (75 percent had worked full time for at least 16 of the previous 24 months, compared to 53 percent of the control group) and were less likely to have used government assistance (only 4 percent received benefits for at least 10 percent of the previous seven years, compared to 20 percent of the control group).

Elizabeth Pungello, Ph.D., scientist at the FPG Institute and co-author of the study, said the educational attainment findings were especially noteworthy.

"When we previously revisited them as young adults at age 21, we found that the children who had received the early educational intervention were more likely to go to college; now we know they were also more likely to make it all the way through and graduate," Pungello said. "What's more, this achievement applied to both boys and girls, an important finding given the current low rate of college graduation for minority males in our country."

Another benefit that the Abecedarian Project participants had was that they tended to delay parenthood by almost two years compared to the control group.

"Being able to follow this study sample over so many years has been a privilege," said Frances Campbell, Ph.D., senior scientist at the institute and lead author of the study. "The randomised design of the study gives us confidence in saying that the benefits we saw at age 30 were associated with an early childhood educational experience."

However Australian parents are finding childcare availability and affordability a problem. Recent reports suggest that some mothers are having to 'dump their kids' at playgroups and centres while they go shopping as they can't afford childcare fees.

The demand for day care centre facilities and personnel has increased in Australia from 17 percent in 1999 to 22 percent in 2008, as many parents are choosing to return to work within the first two years of having children.

Craig Ramey, Ph.D., professor and research scholar at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and study co-author, said the findings have powerful implications for public policy. "The next major challenge is to provide high quality early childhood education to all the children who need it and who can benefit from it."

If you have questions about childcare in Australia call The Child Care Access Hotline 1800 670 305.