The NICHD Study of Early Child Care


Following 1,364 children and their families from birth through the first grade, psychologists are examining the relationship between early child care and children's development. It is the most comprehensive child care study conducted to date in the United States and is characterized by a complex and detailed study design which takes into account many variables, including characteristics of the child care and the family environment.

  • Recruited from 10 locations throughout the country, the families participating in the study vary in socioeconomic background, race, and family structure. The dots indicate the location of Early Child Care Sites.

  • Ethnicity of children enrolled in the study



  • Which family characteristics influence how soon children are placed in care, how many hours they spend in care, how many care arrangements they experience over time and the quality of care they receive?

  • What is the relationship between the aspects of child care that are possible to regulate (such as group ratio, education, and training) and the quality of care children receive in child care? 

  • Is the family influence on children's development diminished when children are in extensive child care as compared to being cared for exclusively by their mothers?

  • Is the age of entry into care, the number of care arrangements, and type of care associated with children's psychological development or their physical health?


Using multiple sources of information, the research team collected detailed information about the family environment, the child care environment, children's development, and children's physical growth and health status over their first 7 years. They focused on determining the unique contribution of child care to the development of children, over and above the important and documented association between family circumstances and children's developmental outcomes. Scientific papers to date focus on the children's first 3 years of life.

Higher Quality Care was related to

  • Higher cognitive performance of children in child care 

  • Better language comprehension and production in children 

  • Higher level of school readiness

Lower Quality Care predicted

  • More problem behaviors, poorer cognitive and language ability, and lower school readiness scores