Number 40: Child care and early education in Australia - The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children

Executive summary

This report was commissioned by the Australian Government Office for Women as part of the Women’s Leadership and Development Programme. The research undertaken for Child care and early education in Australia is based on data collected in Wave 1 of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) from parents, children and child care/early education carers and teachers. The Wave 1 LSAC sample comprises 5,107 infants (mean age 8.8 months, range from 3 to 19 months) and 4,983 children (mean age 4 years and 9 months, range from 4 years and 3 months to 5 years and 7 months) and their families. The report addresses a number of questions relating to child care and early education in Australia and contains findings on these topics:

  • child care and early education attendance patterns for infants and 4 to 5 year-old children
  • parents’ reasons for using care and satisfaction with their infant or child’s care/education
  • family, child and community factors related to current attendance at child care and early education services
  • indicators of quality in formal and informal care/education programs attended by the LSAC infant or child
  • developmental outcomes, such as health, social and cognitive development, for infants and children in relation to care/education attendance patterns, quality indicators, and other influencing family, child and community factors.

Key findings

Parents’ use of infant child care

  • Just over one-third (34.9 per cent) of the LSAC parents were using regular child care for their infants; however, the proportion varied by infant age. It was lowest (18.0 per cent) for children 6 months and younger, increasing to 29.7 per cent for children aged between 6 and 9 months, 38.7 per cent for children between 9 and 12 months, and 48.9 per cent for children older than 12 months. Of infants who were 12 months or older at the time of the interview (n=1,037), 47.5 per cent had received non-parental care prior to the age of 12 months.
  • The majority of the parents using child care (62.1 per cent) accessed informal care provided by relatives, usually grandparents, or non-relatives; 37.9 per cent used formal, government-regulated long day care or family day care services; and 10.0 per cent used a combination of formal and informal care.
  • There were notable differences in the use of formal and informal care by LSAC families. Long day care centres were more likely to be used by mothers who had a university education, were employed full-time rather than part-time and whose family income was higher. Relative care was less commonly used by older mothers (over 35) and more common when there was only one child in the family. Mothers using long day care centres tended to report lower levels of social support, parenting self-efficacy and positive parenting behaviour, than mothers using family day care or informal home-based care.
  • Weekly hours of child care in formal care settings (average of 20 to 21 hours a week) were longer than for informal (average of 14 hours a week). The longest hours in care were experienced by infants attending a combination of formal and informal arrangements (average of 24 hours a week).
  • Longer hours of infant care were more common when mothers were older, more highly educated, employed full-time rather than part-time, and families had a higher income, fewer children and spoke a language other than English at home.
  • Parents typically used child care to enable them to meet their employment, study, family or personal responsibilities. The most common reason cited for using care was work or study (72.3 per cent), followed by taking a break (9.6 per cent), shopping, sport and social activities (9.4 per cent), and health or other needs (1.7 per cent).

Quality of infant child care

  • Information on quality of care was limited by the small number of carers who returned their questionnaires (530); nevertheless these data indicated similarities and differences in infants’ child care experiences.
  • Carer ratings of their interaction with children in learning and care giving practices were at a similar, moderate to high level for all types of infant care. However, provisions for play and learning were rated as less available in informal home-based settings than in long day care centres and family day care services.
  • Carer qualifications differed by care type. The majority of carers in long day care centres held a certificate or diploma (76.2 per cent) or university qualification (22.1 per cent), whereas only 54.9 per cent of family day carers and 26.6 per cent of relatives held a certificate/diploma qualification. Long day care staff were younger than family day carers (average age 34 versus 42 years) and relatives (average age 56 years).
  • For long day care centres, additional information was collected on group size and staff-to-child ratios. Most children (62.2 per cent) were cared for in groups of six to 10 children; 32.8 per cent in groups of more than 10; and 5.0 per cent in groups of five children or less. The majority (75.8 per cent) of long day care centres met state or territory regulations (or recommended regulations) of one adult to four children, but less than half (40.7 per cent) met the recommended ratio of one qualified adult to four children.

Infant health

  • Child care was an important predictor of parents’ report of their infants’ low physical health, particularly for recurrent problems with gastrointestinal, ear and other infections. Infants attending long day care centres were almost twice as likely as children not receiving care to have problems with infections. Home-based child care settings provided by family day care or informal carers were not associated with a higher incidence of infection.
  • In comparison to child care factors, family demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial predictors showed relatively few significant associations with infant health outcomes.
  • When analyses were restricted to infants in regular non-parental child care, poorer health outcomes were highest in the group of infants who attended long day care centres for 21 or more hours per week and lowest in the groups who received one to eight or nine to 20 hours per week of care with relatives.

Infant communication

  • In regard to parents’ concern for their infants’ emergent communication skills, family demographic and psychosocial factors were more important predictors than were child care factors. Infants receiving regular child care were no more likely than children in exclusive parental care to fall within the ‘concern’ category.
  • ‘Type of care’ differences were evident for communication concern, being lowest in the group of infants receiving care with relatives. Hours of care showed some disadvantage for infant communication in the group attending long day care centres for nine to 20 hours per week, but there was no relationship between communication outcomes and hours per week in relative care.

Early education and care services attended by 4 to 5 year-old children

  • Almost all 4 to 5 year olds (96.3 per cent) were attending some type of child care or early education service each week, with the vast majority (95.1 per cent) receiving a formal centre or school-based early childhood program. Most of the children (54.6 per cent) attended preschool, one-half of which were provided in a school and one-half in settings outside the school system. Just under one-quarter (23.9 per cent) attended a long day care centre and 16.5 per cent were in their first year (pre-Year 1) of formal school.
  • Children who did not attend formal early childhood programs were more likely to be younger or growing up in families who were more disadvantaged; that is, mothers were less well educated, not employed, and reported higher psychological distress and poorer parenting; families had a lower income, more financial stress and more children in the household; families were lone parent, Indigenous, non–English speaking, or from a more economically-disadvantaged area.
  • The type of early childhood service attended by the child was associated with some family demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial factors. School-based pre-Year 1 and preschool programs were more likely to be attended by children whose mothers were younger (<25 years) and less well educated, and whose families had more children, were Indigenous or from families speaking a language other than English at home.
  • A substantial proportion (37.2 per cent) of LSAC children attended child care/early education services additional to their main early childhood program. Within this group, most families (24.4 per cent) used informal care arrangements, such as relatives, to supplement their main care/education; 12.8 per cent used additional formal care/education settings. The number of settings attended each week ranged from two (28.7 per cent), to three (6.0 per cent), to four or more (1.1 per cent).
  • Most of the parents who used additional child care (81.8 per cent) did so to enable them to meet their employment responsibilities (69.7 per cent) or personal needs (12.1 per cent). Fewer parents (16.3 per cent) gave reasons related to benefits for the child including social interaction with peers or establishing relationships with grandparents/relatives.
  • Weekly hours attended were shortest for children attending preschool only (average of 13 hours a week), followed by long day care centre only (average of 22 hours a week), preschool plus other care (average of 26 hours a week), and longest in pre-Year 1 only or with other care (32 hours a week) and long day care plus other care (34 hours a week).
  • Longer hours a week of overall care/education were more common when children were older, mothers were employed and more highly educated, and families had a higher income, fewer children, were lone-parent families or spoke a language other than English in the home.

Quality of early childhood education

  • Information on quality of early education was based on a significant return of questionnaires from teachers (n=3,242; 62.8 per cent).
  • Teachers’ ratings of their approach to teaching and learning differed by type of early childhood service: pre-Year 1 classes spent the most time in teacher-directed activities and the least time in child-initiated activities. Only marginal differences were noted between teaching and learning in preschool and long day care programs.
  • Teachers differed markedly by type of service. Teachers in long day care centres were younger (average of 36 years) than teachers in preschool and school settings (average of between 40 and 42 years) and were least likely to hold a university qualification (42.7 per cent versus 56.8 per cent for preschool not in a school; 73.9 to 77.8 per cent for school-based programs). On the other hand, teacher-to-child ratios were significantly higher in long day care centres (51.6 per cent had 1 adult to <8 children) than in preschools (56.7 to 60.4 per cent had one adult to eight to 15 children) and pre-Year 1 classrooms (53.8 per cent had one adult to >15 children).

Child social development

  • Pro-social and problem behaviour outcomes were rated by parents and teachers. Child outcomes were strongly associated with child and family demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial factors, but only weakly linked to early education/child care factors. Teacher ratings of social development were lower for children who attended more child care settings each week.
  • Quality indices also contributed to social outcomes. Mother-rated pro-social behaviour was higher and problem behaviours were lower when teachers were university qualified and offered more teacher-supported small group activities. Teacher/carer-rated social development was higher when teachers were more experienced. Lower ratios of qualified staff to children, particularly for pre-Year 1 classrooms, were associated with higher scores for social outcomes.

Child cognitive achievement

  • Cognitive achievement was indexed by tests of receptive vocabulary and early literacy and numeracy skills. Child and family demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial factors were identified in regression analyses as the major predictors of child language outcomes, but early education and child care effects were also noted.
  • Children who did not attend a formal early childhood program had lower scores for receptive vocabulary than children in pre-Year 1 and preschool programs (whether this was in a single setting or with other additional care), and comparable scores to children in long day care. Children who attended long day care plus other additional care had the lowest scores. The relationship between child care factors and children’s receptive vocabulary appeared to be a function of the amount of time in care rather than type of early childhood setting, as shown by a significant drop in test scores as weekly hours of care/education approached 30 or more hours a week.
  • For achievement in early literacy and numeracy, child and family demographic, socioeconomic and psychosocial factors were the major predictors as well as attendance at pre-Year 1. Not attending a formal early childhood program had less of an impact on children’s achievement in early literacy and numeracy than on receptive vocabulary. Apart from the enhancing effect of being in pre-Year 1, there were only minimal differences in test scores across the six types of early care/education settings children attended and these did not differ from scores for children not attending an education program.
  • Quality indices were also associated with literacy/numeracy outcomes, particularly for children in pre-Year 1. Language outcomes were higher when teachers held an early childhood qualification and ratios of qualified staff to children were lower. Literacy and numeracy outcomes were higher when teacher-supported small group activities occurred often and child-initiated activities occurred only occasionally. Quality indices made a minimal contribution to children’s cognitive outcomes in preschool and long day care settings, but suggested that literacy and numeracy skills were enhanced in settings with more teacher-directed whole group activities.

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1. Child care and early education in Australia

1.1 Introduction

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) seeks to document the breadth of children’s early experiences to understand the factors impacting on health and development. The theoretical framework upon which LSAC is based is a pathways socio-ecological model of children’s health and development (Sanson et al. 2002), which acknowledges the complex interactions between children and their environments. As Figure 1 shows, infant and child development occurs within the context of the family, non-parental child care and early education (including school), and community environments. These contexts, in turn, sit within broader socioeconomic, structural, cultural and political contexts.

Figure Description

Figure 1: Socio-ecological contexts shaping children’s development

Figure 1: Socio-ecological contexts shaping children’s development

Source: Adapted from Bronfenbrenner (1979).

This report focuses primarily on children’s family and child care/early education environments, and the relationships between these spheres of influence.

Child care, either within the family network or in settings outside of the family, is an increasingly common experience for many Australian children. According to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2006), regular child care is used for 34 per cent of infants under the age of 1 year, 61 per cent of 1 year olds and 71 per cent of 2 and 3 year olds. As children get older, the type of care used changes. Child care for infants under 1 year is primarily informal home-based care provided by relatives (mainly grandparents) or other adults (29 per cent). Only 7 per cent of infants under 1 year attend formal care settings, such as long day care centres or family day care, but rates increase to 31 per cent for 1 year olds, to 46 per cent for 2 year olds, and 53 per cent for 3 year olds. By age 4 years, most children are attending a formal child care or early education setting, in either a long day care (28 per cent) or preschool (62 per cent) setting (ABS 2006).

Preliminary analyses of the LSAC data set indicated that for the 4 to 5 year-old cohort the type of care or early education setting children attend is influenced by where the child lives (Harrison & Ungerer 2005). Australian states and territories differ widely in their education provisions for 4 to 5 year-old children (Press & Hayes 2000). In the majority of states/territories, it is common for government schools to provide part-time preschool programs for children in the year before they enter formal schooling. However, in the two largest states, New South Wales and Victoria, school-based preschool programs are rare and families are more likely to access preschool programs that are provided by private or community-based services. All states/territories provide full-time pre-Year 1 programs for children who are 5 years old, or who will be 5 by mid-year, but name these differently (WA: pre-primary; SA: reception; Vic. Tas. Qld: preparatory; NSW, ACT: kindergarten; NT: transition). These distinctions in the availability and cost of early education across different states/territories impact families’ decisions about their use of preschool, child care and school-age early childhood programs for their children.

A further factor affecting children’s child care experiences is families’ use of multiple child care arrangements, estimated at 2 per cent for infants under 1 year, 13 per cent for 1 year olds, 19 per cent for 2 year olds and 21 per cent for 3 year olds. Again, the pattern of care varies by age. Press (2006) comments that infants are more likely to be in a mix of informal home-based care arrangements, while 2 to 3 year olds more likely to be in a combination of formal and informal care, and 4 year olds more likely to attend two or more formal settings (including preschool).

Aspects of child care and early education experiences that impact development include: the type of care/education setting attended, particularly home versus centre care, and regulated versus unregulated care; the quality of care, which is closely linked to aspects of regulation; the amount of care received, which includes weekly hours as well as duration of time or age of entry to care; and the stability of care arrangements, which arises from the number of multiple care arrangements at any one time as well as changes to care over time.1

Consideration of how these four aspects of child care/early education impact children’s development must take into account the broader context of family circumstances and choice, as well as parental care giving. Type, quality, amount and stability of child care are often correlated with other risk and protective factors within the family. For example, child care arrangements are found to be affected by a complex array of factors that differentiate families, including family finances (Wolcott & Glezer 1995), family social class and marital status (Vandell & Corasaniti 1990), levels of stress or support in the family, maternal psychological wellbeing and quality of the marital relationship (Richters & Zahn-Waxler 1988). Notably, these factors have also been identified as important variables which directly influence the quality of maternal care giving, irrespective of child care (Belsky & Isabella 1988; Bronfenbrenner & Crouter 1982; Bronfenbrenner, Moen & Garbarino 1984) and, therefore, may partly or wholly explain associations between child care and child outcomes.

This report examines the child care and early education experiences children receive and investigates the association of these experiences on their learning and social development. It also recognises the family context and family circumstances as having a significant direct influence on children’s development, but also as key determinants of children’s experience of non-parental child care—when they start, what type or types of care they receive and for how many hours each week. A further consideration is that these experiences may also be a positive influence on families’ capacity to parent their children, by providing models of care giving or social support.

1.2 Report overview

This report was commissioned by the Australian Government Office for Women as part of the Women’s Leadership and Development Programme and presents findings on families’ use of child care and early education for infants and 4 to 5 year-old children and the relations between care/education, family circumstances and infant/child health and development. It uses the LSAC Wave 1 data set, collected from March to November 2004, to investigate:

  • type(s), amount and stability of non-parental child care and early education received by infants and 4 to 5 year-old children
  • family, child and community characteristics, and their relation to the type(s), amount and stability of non-parental child care and early education received by infants/children
  • quality of child care/early education contexts, as described by infants’ and children’s involvement with carers, access to resources and educational programs (process quality), as well as carer/teacher qualifications and experience, staff numbers, and group sizes (structural quality)
  • infant health and development in relation to family characteristics and the type(s), amount, stability and quality of non-parental child care received
  • child social and cognitive development in relation to family characteristics and the type(s), amount, stability and quality of care/early education received.

This report begins with a comprehensive review of international literature on non-parental child care and early education. Key themes arising from this literature inform the analyses presented in subsequent sections. The LSAC study design and methodology is outlined in Section 2. Sections 3 and 4 present the data from the infant cohort, to describe patterns of child care and the associations between care and diverse family, child and community circumstances. Sections 5 and 6 present data from the child cohort, to describe patterns of care and early education, and the associations between children’s experiences and family, child and community circumstances. Section 7 examines structural and process indicators of quality in child care and early education settings to describe variations in quality across settings. Section 8 examines infant health and development and child social and cognitive outcomes, in a series of multivariate analyses designed to assess the unique contribution of child care/early education factors after accounting for the effects of family, child and community circumstances. Section 9 summarises and highlights key findings from these descriptive and statistical analyses in relation to current issues in early childhood education and child care policy.

1.3 Review of literature

This review draws on a comprehensive search of relevant international literature and aims to identify the major studies conducted in this broad area. It describes evidence on the outcomes of non-parental child care and early childhood education programs on children’s cognitive, early learning, language and socio-emotional development. The review also summarises the key characteristics of child care and early education that may affect such outcomes, and the wider family circumstances of children in child care and early education programs.

The international literature search identified studies relating to three major types of early childhood experiences:

  • non-parental child care
  • early childhood education programs, typically provided in the year before school entry (preschool)
  • high quality, early education interventions for disadvantaged children.

Selection of studies included in the review

This review focuses on non-parental child care and early education programs prior to school. It does not summarise the predominantly United States (US) literature on the effects of high quality, early childhood programs for disadvantaged children, which are typically situated in child care centres or preschools, and include the Perry Pre-School Project (Schweinhart, Barnes & Weikart 1993), the Abecedarian full-day pre-school program (Campbell et al. 2002; Ramey, Campbell & Blair 1998), the Chicago Parent–Child Centres (Reynolds & Temple 1998; Reynolds et al. 2001) and the Head Start and Early Head Start (Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services 2002, 2003), as it is difficult to generalise these programs to broadly available child care and early education programs. Rather, the review focuses on child care and preschool programs of ‘naturally varying’ quality, which conform better to the Australian context.

The subset of studies included in this review involves contemporary cohorts only, rather than cohorts that have now reached adulthood,2 once again because they are more likely to generalise to the current child care context in Australia. The sample of studies was also limited to those large enough (more than 100 cases) and rigorous enough to use statistical analyses that control for parental, family and individual characteristics in assessing effects on children. A brief description of the reviewed studies is provided in Appendix A, accompanied by a summary of the major findings in relation to child outcomes.

Non-parental child care

Scope of existing studies

There are relatively few rigorous studies of child care that involve contemporary cohorts of children and their participation in ‘typical’ child care arrangements, that is, formal care as well as informal care provided by relatives and friends. Three, large-scale (n>1,000) prospective longitudinal studies have been designed specifically to measure child care effects. Two of these are located in the US and one in the United Kingdom (UK). The US studies are the National Institute for Child Health and Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (NICHD–ECC) and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS–B). The UK study is the Families, Children and Child Care Study (FCCC). Of these, the ECLS–B is the only study that involves a nationally representative sample.

This review includes other, moderately large longitudinal studies of child care; however, the scope of these varies. In some, the study’s focus is limited to formal child care centres or family day care services. These include the Cost Quality and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centres Study (CQO) (United States), the National Child Care Staffing Study (NCCSS) (United States), Child Care Choices (CCC) (Australia), the Competent Children, Competent Learners (CCCL) Project (New Zealand), the Göteborg Study (Sweden), the Bermuda Study (Bermuda) and the Japanese Study of Extended Child Care (Japan). In others, the study describes outcomes for a range of typical care arrangements, such as the Sydney Family Development Project (Australia), the Stockholm Study (Sweden), the Norwegian Study of Maternal Employment and Day Care (Norway) and the Study of Welfare Reform (California, US). We also include cross-sectional studies relating to relationships between day care and attachment (The Haifa Study of Early Care) and cortisol activity (US Study of Child Care Cortisol Activity; West Australia Child Care Study), as well as the Early Childhood Mental Health Program Study (Washington, US), which employed a retrospective study design.

Child care effects have also been studied using large-scale national cohort studies, including the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth (NLSCY, Canada), the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec (LSCDQ, Quebec) and the Netherlands Twin Register (Netherlands). In addition, the UK Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project (described in the preschool section of this review) provides limited data relevant to child care and child outcomes.

Child care effects and children’s development: effect size

To understand whether use of child care and other types of early childhood programs are related to meaningful differences in children’s development, studies have begun to express findings in terms of effect sizes (NICHD–ECC 2006). Effect sizes estimates are computed from significance tests and are expressed in standard units such that –1 indicates a strong negative association, 0 indicates no association and +1 indicates a strong positive association. Some scholars have dismissed the effect of child care on children’s development as small, when compared to the effects of family background. However, there is much argument concerning the meaning of the effect sizes from different studies, especially in naturalistic studies where many factors influence the conditions and behaviours observed.

Effect size varies by family type (being higher for more disadvantaged families) and by country (being higher where child care is more variable in quality). In the US, for example, follow ups of the 2 year olds, 3 year olds and 4 and a half year olds in the NICHD-ECC study demonstrated modest child care effects (d<0.40). In contrast, parenting effects were described as moderate to large (d=0.50 to 1.2) (NICHD–ECC 2006). Depending on the age of the child and type of outcome, child care effects were between one-third to one-half the size of family environment effects. The most consistent effects were seen for observed care quality and amount of care. In the EPPE study in the UK, spending a longer time in higher quality preschool education generated similar effect sizes to having higher maternal education and higher family income (Sammons et al. 2003). In Australia, Ungerer and colleagues (2006) report moderate effect sizes for amount of child care and aspects of child social development.

Child care effects and children’s cognitive and language development

Using data from the Stockholm Longitudinal Study, Andersson (1989, 1992) reported that children who entered child care in the second half of their first year scored significantly better on standardised measures of cognitive ability and teacher ratings of academic achievement at both 8 and 13 years of age, even after controlling for differences in family backgrounds. The CQO study also found that children who entered child care in the second half of their first year did better on measures of cognitive or language performance, with other factors controlled (ed. Helburn 1995). In contrast, the Bermudian study (McCartney et al. 1985) found that mother’s employment status in the first year of the child’s life made no difference (controlling for family background). Similarly, the analysis of the NLSCY data conducted by Lefebvre and Merrigan (2002) found negligible and insignificant impacts of child care on the motor, social and language development for preschoolers.

Child care effects and children’s socio-emotional development

A major concern of child care research conducted in the US since the 1970s has been whether regular separations between infants and mothers would cause attachment insecurity among infants in child care. The NICHD–ECC provides evidence that early child care (in the first year of a child’s life) does not necessarily harm the formation of the mother–child (or adult–child) attachment bonds that are necessary for healthy infant development (NICHD–ECC 1997, 2001). Similar findings were reported for Australian children (Harrison & Ungerer 1997, 2000). The primary influence on attachment derives from the sensitivity of the mother (adult) in the relationship (Harrison & Ungerer 2002). In the NICHD–ECC study, the amount of child care led to attachment insecurity at 15 and 36 months only if the children were in child care for more than 10 hours a week and if the mother was also highly insensitive towards the child. For mothers providing sensitive care, non-maternal child care did not pose a threat to attachment security of the child.

In relation to the impact of child care on behaviour problems, a recent analysis of the Netherlands Twin registry dataset (Van Beijsterveldt, Hudziak & Boomsma 2005) showed that at the age of 3 years, children with non-parental child care experiences had more externalising problems than children with exclusive parental care. Overall, however, the effect sizes for child care variables were small (effect sizes were between 0.12 and 0.23).

Child care effects and children’s stress hormone (cortisol) levels

Several studies have shown that children in child care record higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than children who are looked after at home (Dettling, Gunnar & Donzella 1999; Tout et al. 1998; Watamura, Donzella & Alwin 2003). Moreover, while cortisol levels are normally high at the beginning of the day and decrease over the course of the day, the levels recorded when children attended centre-based child care tended not to drop as they do when children were at home. This suggests children attending child care remain in a high state of arousal or stress for longer periods. The pattern of elevated cortisol throughout the day is higher among toddlers, particularly those with more fearful or difficult temperaments (Dettling et al. 2000; Gunnar et al. 1997; Gunnar et al. 2003; Watamura, Donzella & Alwin 2003).

There is evidence to suggest, however, that child care programs in the ‘good to excellent’ range of quality, where teachers are available to respond appropriately to stress, may buffer cortisol release. A study of family-based child care found that children’s stress levels do not rise in settings where they receive a lot of attention, support and guidance from the care provider (Dettling et al. 2000). Similarly, in the West Australian cortisol study (Sims, Guilfoyle & Parry 2006), cortisol levels of children attending child care programs rated as ‘high quality’ on the National Childcare Accreditation Council’s Quality Improvement and Accreditation System ratings decreased across the day, whereas cortisol levels of children attending programs rated as ‘unsatisfactory’ increased.

The work of Gunnar, her colleagues and others has found that negative behavioural effects of child care appear to be related to the pattern of cortisol levels in children over the day. It is suggested that toddlers and preschoolers learning to negotiate with peers may experience child care centres as socially demanding and stressful. Extensive hours in child care and/or the inability of parents and teachers to reduce levels of stress experienced in child care may keep children in a stressed/aroused state.

Child care effects and children’s physical health

Few studies have assessed children’s general physical health in relation to child care, although it is generally accepted that children who attend child care centres are exposed more often to communicable diseases than children in exclusive parental or family care. The NICHD–ECC (ed. 2005) study recorded longitudinally three aspects of child health: ear infections, gastrointestinal infections and upper respiratory tract infections. Findings confirmed that children aged 3 years to 4 years, 6 months in group care (where there are more than six other children) were between 1.4 and two times more likely to be ill than children cared for at home or in small group settings. The rate of infection was not related to the number of hours per week of care. Contrary to expectations, having been in child care before the age of 2 did not reduce the rate of infection at age 3 to 4 years. This study also examined rates of infection from birth in relation to child outcomes at age 3 years and found that the effect of child care on infection was largely unrelated to child behaviour, language ability and school readiness.

Characteristics of child care and child outcomes

A table from the NICHD–ECC study (ed. 2005; p. 32), reproduced as Table 1, summarises the findings for children in the first three years of life on the scope and nature of the relationship between child care and six major aspects of children’s development, after controlling for child and family factors. Effects for quality were consistently identified for three of the six outcomes, despite being tested at differing ages and using different specifications of assessment (indicated by ‘consistent’) and were identified under some conditions for two of the other six outcomes (indicated by ‘sometimes’). In contrast, amount, type and stability of care were less consistently identified as predictors of child outcomes. The nature and direction of these effects are reviewed in the following sections.

Table Description

Table 1: NICHD-ECC study (2005): summary of findings
Child care character Attachment Parent–child relationships Non-compliance in child care Problem behaviours Cognitive development and school readiness Language development
Quality Sometimes Sometimes   Consistent Consistent Consistent
Amount Sometimes Sometimes   Sometimes    
Type     Sometimes Sometimes Consistent Consistent
Stability Sometimes   Sometimes      

Child care quality and cognitive/language outcomes

The studies included in this review demonstrate the critical influence of child care quality on a range of developmental outcomes. Higher quality care has positive developmental effects on cognitive and language development, and on problem behaviours.

The NICHD–ECC and the Bermuda study suggest the verbal environment of the child care setting is of central importance to cognitive and language outcomes (McCartney 1984; NICHD–ECC 2000a). Children enrolled in high quality centres in the Bermuda study scored better on language development and were more considerate and sociable between 3 and 5 years of age. However, the effects of early quality of care no longer appeared at 5, 6, 7 and 8 years, with family background and maternal IQ being better predictors at these ages (Chin-Quee & Scarr 1994).

Positive developmental outcomes were reported in the NICHD–ECC (1999) study when child care centres met professional guidelines for staff–child ratios, group size and care giver characteristics (controlling for maternal education and parenting quality). At 4 years, 6 months, larger group sizes and lower care giver education were separately associated with lower academic achievement and lower cognitive development, controlling for family factors and children’s prior cognitive functioning (NICHD–ECC & Duncan 2003).

Other studies accord with these findings. High quality child care practices were related to improved cognitive outcomes in the CQO study (Peisner-Feinberg et al. 2001). Similar relationships were found between regulatory standards (for example, child–staff ratio or care giver education and specialised training) of home-based child care, defined as ‘where the care provider received payment for child care’ and cared for ‘at least two children including the study child (p. 61), and developmental outcomes (Clarke-Stewart et al. 2002). In the Göteborg Child Care Study, quality of service impacted on the verbal and mathematical abilities of the children who had spent three or more years in child care (Broberg et al. 1997). Likewise, the New Zealand children in the CCCL project—in child care rated as low quality—were less likely than those using child care rated as high quality to be engaging in exploration, or to have extended language in interactions with adults (Wylie, Thompson & Kerslake Hendricks 1996). The Californian Welfare Reform Project Study (Loeb et al. 2004) also showed that child care quality positively affected children’s cognitive and language development. Children displayed stronger cognitive growth when their care givers were more sensitive and responsive.

Child care quality and socio-emotional development

Quality child care indicators have also been consistently related to socio-emotional outcomes among children. In the CQO study, for example, the closeness of the child–teacher relationship was related to adaptive social development (Peisner-Feinberg et al. 2001). The National Child Care Staffing Study also suggested that children who had experienced a history of poor quality care (measured by structural features at 18, 24, 30 and 36 months) were rated as more difficult by preschool teachers and more hostile by kindergarten teachers (Howes 2000; Howes et al. 1988; Howes & Hamilton 1993). Prior to 3 years, 6 months, the quality of child care also shaped children’s social skills in the Göteborg Child Care Study (Campbell, Lamb & Hwang 2000). In the CCCL project, children in low quality child care programs were less likely than others to be engaging in sophisticated play. More aggressive behaviour was observed among these children as well (Wylie, Thompson & Kerslake Hendricks 1996). Children in the Californian Welfare Reform Project Study (Loeb et al. 2004) also displayed stronger social development when their providers had educational levels beyond a high school diploma.

Type of child care and cognitive/language outcomes

Studies using the NICHD–ECC dataset have been better able to separate the effect of child care type from other child care and family effects than studies using any other data set because of the extensive list of controls available. At ages 24, 36 and 54 months (NICHD–ECC 2000a, 2000b, 2002; NICHD–ECC & Duncan 2003), children spending more time in child care centres had higher cognitive and language scores after controlling for family background differences and the quality and amount of child care received. In the NICHD–ECC and Duncan analysis (2003), the measured effect size for cognitive test scores was moderate (0.27). The NICHD–ECC data also suggest that cumulative experience in high quality, centre-based care starting in the second year of life (age 1) may be particularly beneficial for children. This appears to be related to the amount of language stimulation from teachers who have more education and more specialised training in Early Childhood Education (NICHD–ECC 2000a).

In Canada, the NLSCY studies provide a mixed report of the impact of child care centres on cognitive development for preschool children. Lefebvre and Merrigan (2002) found that earlier child care attendance had no significant effect on cognitive development at 4 or 5 years. However, Kohen, Hertzman and Willms (2002) reported that child care centre attendance had a positive impact on language development, and Lipps and Yiptong-Avila (1999) found positive effects on maths scores. These variations in findings may reflect the limitations of the NLSCY data in documenting types and quality of child care experiences.

In Australia, the Sydney Family Development Project (SFDP) (Harrison & Ungerer 2000; Love et al. 2003) showed that competence in learning (such as task orientation, creativity, less learning difficulty) in the first year of school was associated with attendance at formal, regulated care (long day care or family day care) rather than informal, unregulated care during children’s first 2 and a half years.

In the Californian Welfare Reform Project Study (Loeb et al. 2004), children who attended centre-based child care programs performed better on tests of cognitive development than those looked after by friends or family. These developmental effects were moderately strong, especially for measures of school readiness. No consistent differences in cognitive development were found between children who attended licensed, family child care homes and those in other home-based settings. However, children attending family child care homes demonstrated more behavioural problems.

Type of child care and socio-emotional outcomes

Australian research, based on the SFDP, found that infant–mother attachment was more likely to be secure in the group cared for in formal care settings, with the best outcomes being noted for babies in family day care (Harrison & Ungerer 1997). In contrast, when the quality of centre-based programs is poor, as in the Haifa Study of Early Care, infants using centre-based care were significantly more likely to become insecurely attached to their mothers compared with infants who were in different forms of home-based care (Sagi et al. 2002).

Stability and multiplicity of child care and child outcomes

Stability of care (changes in care arrangements or care givers that children experience over time and the use of multiple concurrent child care arrangements) has been investigated only relatively recently. The NICHD–ECC (ed. 2005), NLSCY (Kohen, Hertzman & Willms 2002) and Child Care Choices (Bowes et al. 2004, 2009) have indicated that many infants and toddlers experience high rates of change of child care arrangements, and that multiplicity is a common experience for many young children.

An analysis of the NICHD–ECC data, conducted by Tran and Weinraub (2006), showed that multiple care arrangements involving family members positively predicted language comprehension, whereas multiple care involving a mix of family and non-relative care givers negatively predicted language comprehension. These effects, however, appeared to be influenced by the quality of the primary care arrangement—under conditions of low or moderate quality in the primary care environment, multiple care was associated with lower language scores, whereas under conditions of high quality in the primary care environment, multiple care was associated with higher language comprehension scores.

In the Australian CCC study (Wise et al. 2005), children who attended two or more care arrangements involving regulated long day care centres or family day care plus care provided by a family member tended to have higher scores on global language at preschool-age than children who only attended long day care centres.

For behavioural outcomes, a longitudinal analysis of the SFDP study (Harrison & Ungerer 2000; Love et al. 2003) showed that children who had had more changes in their care arrangements from birth to age 6 were rated by their teachers as less well adjusted (showed more behaviour problems) at school. Similar findings were noted in the CCC study (Bowes et al. 2009): children with a history of having more changes to their care arrangements were rated by teachers as having more behavioural difficulties. This study also noted that children who attending multiple child care arrangements were rated as being less pro-social with peers and having more conflicted relationships with their teachers.

Amount of child care/age at initiation and cognitive/language development

Results are mixed relating to the amount of care, age at initiation and cognitive/language development. The Stockholm Study (Andersson 1989, 1992) reported that children who entered child care in the second half of their first year scored significantly better on measures of cognitive ability and teacher/carer-rated academic achievement at age 8 and 13. In contrast, an analysis of the NLSCY conducted by Gagne (2003) found no correlation between school readiness and the total number of hours spent in child care.

In Australia, Harrison and Ungerer (2000) and Love and colleagues (2003) reported that teachers’ ratings of children’s learning capabilities in the first year of school were lower for children who had received longer hours of care before 3 years of age. Similarly, Bowes and colleagues (2009) have reported an association between longer hours of child care and poorer adjustment to the academic and learning demands of school.

Amount of child care/age at initiation and socio-emotional development

Analyses of several studies have found that extensive amounts of time spent in child care, especially during infancy, are associated with poorer behavioural outcomes. The NICHD–ECC (2001, 2003), for example, found evidence that more hours in child care were associated with behavioural problems, at 2 years, 4 years, 6 months, and in kindergarten. At age 2, more hours in care were associated with more negative interactions with peers and more behaviour problems as reported by care givers, and less social competence as reported by mothers. At 4 years, 6 months, more hours were associated with more negative play, less social competence and more externalising behaviours, and in kindergarten, with more externalising behaviour problems and teacher–child conflict. These effects were moderated by the quality of child care and the quality of parenting, but were still statistically significant and quantitatively important after controlling for these influences.

In the EPPE study, high levels of ‘group care’ before age 3 and especially before age 2 (and entry to preschool) were associated with higher levels of anti-social behaviour at age 3. However, when children showing high levels of anti-social behaviour at age 3 attended quality preschool programs between 3 and 5 years of age, their level of anti-social behaviour decreased (Sylva et al. 2003).

Using data from the NLSCY, Belsky (1986, 1988a, 1988b, 2001) has argued that extensive hours of child care when children are young places them at risk of socio-emotional problems. In contrast, Borge et al. (2004), analysing data from 2 to 3 year olds from the NLSCY, found that aggression was significantly more common in children looked after by their own mothers than those attending group day care. Strong social selection associated with family risk was found, not only in the sample as a whole, but even within the high-risk subsample. However, after accounting for social selection, physical aggression was significantly more common in children from high-risk families who were looked after by their own parents. No such difference was evident in the majority (84 per cent) of children from low-risk families.

Several studies did not find a relationship between quantity of child care and negative behavioural outcomes. Findings relating to the long-term effects of child care quantity from a recent analysis of the Netherlands Twin registry (Van Beijsterveldt, Hudzaik & Boomsma 2005) were mixed and only significant for mothers’ ratings and for children from low socioeconomic families. Children in child care for larger amounts of time did not show more behaviour problems. The Washington study of mental and socio-emotional adjustment (Bornstein et al. 2006) also did not find a relationship between hours of child care and mental development or socio-emotional adjustment. Finally, children in the Stockholm Study who entered child care at an early age were rated more positively on social–personal attributes by their teachers than children who had entered child care at a later stage or who had home care (Andersson 1989, 1992).

In Australia, a recent report by Bowes and colleagues (2009) found that amount of child care in early childhood was a frequent predictor of adjustment outcomes at school-age. Longer hours in formal child care settings (particularly long day care centres) were associated with teachers’ ratings of poorer pro-social behaviour, more socio-emotional difficulties, and more conflicted relationships with teachers.

Effects on children of interactions between child care and family factors

The literature on the effects of early child care remains ambiguous. This underscores the need to focus on the relative impact of parental and non-parental care and how these types of care intersect. Increasingly, studies are considering whether child and family characteristics moderate the influence of child care experiences by examining the interactive effects between child care measures and background characteristics.

On the differential impact of child care on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the NICHD–ECC study did not find evidence that quality and other characteristics of child care have differential effects across children from different income groups (NICHD–ECC 2000a, 2001, 2003). The authors conclude that all children benefit regardless of family background (NICHD–ECC 2000a). The positive effect of sensitive, stimulating care giving on the development of cognitive and social skills, irrespective of whether children were African-American or English-speaking, Latino or white, was apparent in both the NICHD–ECC and the CQO studies (Burchinal & Cryer 2003).

Moderating influences of family characteristics were observed in the CQO study for some outcomes. Effect sizes, though modest in most cases, were stronger for children from low-income families, indicating stronger positive effects of good quality child care for children from more at-risk backgrounds. The LSCDQ also found that participation in child care programs protected children living in high-risk, disadvantaged families (Borge et al. 2004).

On the other hand, preschoolers from NLSCY families with above average parenting skills and higher levels of education had slightly better cognitive outcomes if they had never been in child care (Gagne 2003). Similarly, in the CQO study there was no evidence that children from more advantaged families were buffered from the effects of poor quality care (Peisner-Feinberg et al. 2001).

Early childhood education services (preschool)

Scope of existing studies

Few studies have examined the effects of preschool education, as opposed to high quality preschool early intervention programs, on children’s outcomes. The reviewed studies include: the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS–K), which aims to provide data about the effects of a wide range of family, school, community and individual variables on children’s development, early learning and early school performance; the EPPE, which is the first national longitudinal study of young children’s development (between 3 and 7 years); and the Oklahoma universal, high quality pre-kindergarten program for 4 year olds, which was reported on in a study of 1,843 pre-kindergarten children enrolled in the Tulsa, Oklahoma public schools. Some findings on preschool effects are also available from analyses of the NLSCY and NICHD–ECC datasets.

Effects of preschool programs

Analyses of the EPPE program showed, at the time of entry into primary schooling, that preschool experience enhances both intellectual and social development. The longer children had attended preschool, the greater the intellectual benefits and social abilities (Sylva et al. 2003). Preschool attendance also reduced the rate of risk of special education needs from one in three children to one in five children. Analysis of the ECLS–K dataset conducted by Magnuson and colleagues (Magnuson et al. 2003; Magnuson, Ruhm & Waldfogel 2004) showed that children attending preschool programs had better literacy and numeracy skills at ages 5 and 6, with greater effects for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Similarly, analyses of data on approximately 1,300 children involved in the NICHD–ECC study (NICHD–ECC & Duncan 2003) suggested that attendance in a preschool program between 3 and 5 years produces higher cognitive scores after age 5 years.

Using the NLSCY data, Pagani and colleagues (2003) compared areas of Canada with and without preschool programs for 4 years olds and found no advantage for children on various behavioural outcomes. A more positive picture emerges from the limited research on studies of the effects of Oklahoma’s universal ‘pre-K’ program for 4 year olds, which controlled for selection effects. Gormley Jr and colleagues (2005) found positive effects on children’s literacy and problem-solving development across all income brackets, irrespective of ethnic background.

The studies reviewed also suggest that children who start school ahead of others in academic achievement tend to stay ahead. Studies using NLSCY data, for example, found that 4 and 5 year-old children entering the first year of school (kindergarten) with low vocabulary scores were more likely to have poor reading scores at ages 8 and 9 years (Hoddinott, Lethbridge & Phipps 2002).

Quality of preschool programs and child outcomes

The available evidence indicates that quality of preschool is related to longer-term outcomes. For example, using data collected in the CQO study, Howes (1988) found relations between dimensions of quality (teacher training, low child–adult ratio, group size of less than 25 children, planned curriculum and adequate physical space) of the preschool program at 3 years of age and a child’s functioning in first grade. After controlling for family factors, children in programs that met more of the quality dimensions had fewer behaviour problems and better work habits.

Type of preschool program and child outcomes

Findings from the EPPE study (Sylva et al. 2003) suggested that outcomes were better when children attended nursery schools and preschool settings that combined care and education. However, the effects of type and quality are difficult to disentangle since these types of preschool education programs also showed higher scores on observed quality.

Amount of preschool and child outcomes

Analyses of the EPPE data suggested that children attending preschool programs benefited cognitively and socially, irrespective of whether they attended a half-day or full-day program (Sylva et al. 2003). The ECLS–K data also suggested that children who start centre-based child care earlier than age 3 make greater cognitive gains than those who start at an older age.

Effects on children of interactions between preschool program factors and family factors

There is some evidence to suggest that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds benefit most from universally accessible early education (preschool programs). Analysing the NLSCY dataset, Kohen, Lipps and Hertzman (2006) reported that the children whose mothers had low levels of education and who participated in pre-school programs before formal schooling rated higher on teacher-reported measures of competence and academic skills than those who did not participate in a pre-school program. Concomitantly, parent-reported behaviour problems were lower among the children who had participated in an early childhood education program. In the ECLS–K study, children from low-income families achieved greater cognitive gains when attending centres for more than 30 hours a week, whereas this did not apply for children from high-income backgrounds (Loeb et al. 2005). Starting earlier was, however, related to more ‘worried/antisocial’ behaviour as rated by teachers, and more than 30 hours in centres per week negatively affected social outcomes among white and African-American children (but not Hispanic children). Analyses of the EPPE dataset showed that children from some ethnic minority groups made greater progress during preschool than white children or those for whom English was a first language (Sylva et al. 2003).

1.4 Discussion

Child care and early childhood education in Australia is a complex phenomenon. Within the broad categories of formal and informal care and early education, there are many types and combinations of care that families use for their young children and these vary by the age of the child. To study the impact of child care/early education on children’s development requires a rigorous research design that accounts for the connections between care and diverse family circumstances, child characteristics and community resources. Assessing possible relations between child care/early education and children’s development requires complex statistical techniques accounting for the effects of family, child and community when analysing possible effects. Results from two decades of international research suggest that the effect sizes for child care are small to modest, when compared to the relatively larger effects of family factors such as parenting and family socioeconomic status.

Research reviewed in this section presents mixed evidence for the links between child care and developmental and health outcomes. This is partly explained by the country in which the study is located, and the regulatory context that this implies. As noted by Love and colleagues (2003), ‘the generalizability of … findings may hinge on the context in which those results were obtained’ (p. 1021). For example, the external regulatory system applied to child care services is an important determinant of the quality of care provided. This is relevant when studying formal child care services in Australia, where responsibility for regulating early childhood education and care (ECEC) services is shared between the Australian Government and state/territory governments and where regulatory arrangements differ for ECEC sectors (Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) Productivity Agenda Working Group 2008).

Also, the results reported in much of the research involve child outcomes measured beyond infancy. Relatively few studies have examined concurrent relationships between the infant child care experiences and development. Similarly, studies of children’s readiness for school or achievement in school have tended to draw on information about child care before school. Large-scale contemporary research, including LSAC, is primarily longitudinal in nature. However, this report, which deals only with Wave 1 data, is limited in its ability to assess long-term effects.

Four interrelated aspects of children’s child care and early education were reviewed—quality, type, amount and stability. The impact of each of these is summarised here.

Quality

Quality is tied to structural features, such as carer/teacher qualifications, group size, numbers of adults, physical space and resources, and process features such as language stimulation, adult–child interaction and curriculum. Results from a number of studies and locations confirm that quality is important for development, on its own and as a moderator of other factors affecting child outcomes. Better quality programs are generally understood to impact positively on children’s language, cognitive and behavioural development, and social competence with peers and adults. Studies also show that the greater the exposure to better quality programs, the greater the effect, particularly in preparing children for school.

Type

Type of care/early education, because of its association with structural features of the setting, can be closely linked to quality. However, the type of care/early education setting may have different effects at different ages. For example, large group centre-based care, as opposed to small group home-based care, has been linked to more negative outcomes, particularly for very young children. On the other hand, experience in centre-based early education programs for 3 and 4 year olds has been linked to better cognitive outcomes in early years of school.

Amount

Consistent associations have been reported between child behaviour problems and the amount of non-parental child care received. Two complementary aspects of care have been found to be detrimental—an earlier age of entry to care along with longer weekly hours. On the other hand, longer hours or more overall time in high quality care/early education is associated with benefits, such as cognitive gain, for children growing up in circumstances of disadvantage.

Stability

Stability of child care arrangements over time and the number of concurrent child care arrangements are less well represented in the research. In general, more unstable, changeable care is thought to be a risk factor in children’s socio-emotional development. By contrast, ‘multicare’—involving two child care arrangements and often including a small home-based setting with relatives—has been related to positive outcomes for social and cognitive competence.

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2. Background to the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and methods

2.1 Introduction

Child care is used by significant numbers of Australian families and most Australian children attend an early education program in the year before they enter formal schooling. However, the vast majority of child care/early education research studies have been conducted overseas, where the regulatory context of care is different. The generalisability of overseas findings to the Australian context must, therefore, be questioned. LSAC is the first nationally representative study to generate comprehensive data on infants’ and 4 to 5 year-old children’s experience of child care/early education. This report builds on an earlier analysis of the Wave 1 LSAC data that examined children’s attendance in care/education settings across the states and territories (Harrison & Ungerer 2005). This earlier paper complements the present report in its focus. They both examine patterns of child care and early education in different regulatory arrangements and funding programs. This report, however, extends the previous work by: analysing a wider range of child care features describing care in relation to a full description of family, child and community characteristics; reporting on quality indicators; and assessing the effects of care on child outcomes (in conjunction with family, child and community effects).

2.2 The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children

Growing Up in Australia—the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children is the first comprehensive national study to examine the lives of Australian children at regular intervals across infancy, early and middle childhood. The study aims to provide data to enable a comprehensive understanding of children’s development in Australia’s current social, economic and cultural environment, and thereby become a major element of the evidence base for future policy and practice regarding children and their families. LSAC was initiated and funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The study is conducted in partnership between the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with advice provided by a consortium of leading researchers.

2.3 Sample selection and recruitment

The Medicare database, the most comprehensive database of Australia’s population, was used as a sampling frame for LSAC. Children in the scope of the survey were those infants aged 3 to 12 months and children aged 4 years, 3 months to 5 years at the time of sample selection. A target sample of 10,000 was sought, equally divided between these two cohorts.

A two-stage clustered design, based on postcodes, was chosen. Every effort was made to ensure the sample would be as representative as possible of Australia’s infants and 4 to 5 year-old children. The first stage of sampling entailed selecting postcodes, and the second stage children within these postcodes. Children in both cohorts were selected from the same 311 postcodes. An average of 40 children per postcode in the larger states and 20 children per postcode in the smaller states and territories were selected for study.

Stratification was used to ensure proportional geographic representation for states and territories and capital city statistical division and rest of state areas. Postcodes were randomly selected with probability proportional to size selection where possible, and with equal probability for small-population postcodes. Children were randomly selected with approximately equal chance of selection for each child (about one in 25). Due to excessive data collection costs, some remote postcodes were excluded and population estimates adjusted accordingly.

The selection of children and corresponding fieldwork occurred in four phases. This enabled a sample selection of children born across all months of the calendar year, to attempt to reduce the age range of children at interview, and also because some of the target infant population had not been born at the time of the first phase selection.

The final Wave 1 sample contained 53 per cent of all families sent a letter about the study by the Health Insurance Commission. After excluding non-response, the achieved response rate was 64 per cent for the infant cohort and 57 per cent for the child cohort. Children with mothers or fathers who had completed Year 12 are overrepresented in the final sample (by 7 to 9 percentage points). Infants with no siblings are underrepresented (by 3 percentage points), while 4 to 5 year olds in couple families are overrepresented and those in lone-parent families underrepresented (by 4 percentage points each). Broadly the LSAC sample is representative of the Australian population with no large differences from 2001 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data on most characteristics, including, for example, Indigenous status. Comprehensive details on the design and sample are available elsewhere (Soloff, Lawrence & Johnstone 2005).

Weights were developed to compensate for the differences between the final LSAC sample and the national population (see Soloff et al. 2006 for detail). Using weights in LSAC analyses broadly compensates for differences between the final sample and the national population. This process produced weights for the LSAC sample, which can be used as expansion factors by scaling of the sample to the population. The LSAC weights also reflect the design of the study (allowing for unequal probabilities of inclusion in the study that may result in sampling biases) and the likelihood of response (those less likely to respond are given a higher weight and those more likely to respond a lower weight). To allow for any non-response effects, a post-stratification weighting system is used in all analyses. As the survey design used both clustering and stratification in the sampling, this is also accounted for in all relevant analyses. Analyses in this thematic report entail the use of sample weights, and multivariable analyses are fully adjusted for the sample design.

2.4 Description of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children sample

This section describes the LSAC sample used for this report’s data analyses. The data were from data release 2.4 for Wave 1, which included 5,107 infants and 4,983 children.

Infant cohort

The average age of the infant cohort at the time of interview was 8.8 months (range: 3 to 19 months) and 51.2 per cent were male. The age of infants at interview extended beyond the upper limit for the target age range (12 months) due to time lags between selecting the sample and conducting interviews. Three-quarters of the infants were either the only child in the family (39.1 per cent) or had one sibling (36.4 per cent). Most infants (81.5 per cent) were living in intact-couple families (that is, all children in the family being the biological offspring of both parents), 10.5 per cent were in lone-parent families and 6.8 per cent were in stepfamilies (that is, at least one child being a stepchild of either parent).

The primary carer (P1) was almost always the infant’s biological parent (99.8 per cent) and female (98.6 per cent). Most primary carers (61.5 per cent) were in the age range 25 to 34 years at the time of the birth of the child; only 16.3 per cent were 24 years of age or less. More than three-quarters of primary carers (78.6 per cent) were born in Australia. In relation to the highest level of education achieved by the primary carer, 29.2 per cent had obtained some level of university education, 37.2 per cent had completed a trade certificate or diploma, 18.4 per cent had completed Years 11 to 12 and 15.2 per cent had an education of Year 10 or less. Half of all primary carers (49.1 per cent) were not in the labour force at the time they were interviewed. Of the others, 13.0 per cent were employed full time, 34.4 per cent employed part-time and 3.4 per cent reported being unemployed.

The secondary carer (P2) was male in 98.3 per cent of cases. More than half (55.3 per cent) were in the age range 25 to 34 years at the time of the birth of the child and another 37.7 per cent were 35 years or older. As with the primary carer, secondary carers were predominately born in Australia (76.4 per cent). Secondary carers had also achieved similar levels of education to primary carers: 27.7 per cent had obtained some level of university education, 47.7 per cent had a trade qualification, 13.6 per cent had completed Years 11 to 12 and 11.0 per cent had a Year 10 or less level of schooling. Most secondary carers (85.6 per cent) were in full-time employment while 7.0 per cent were employed part-time, 3.2 per cent were unemployed and 4.3 per cent were not in the labour force.

Child cohort

The average age of the child cohort was 4 years, 9 months (range: 4 years, 3 months to 5 years, 7 months) and 50.9 per cent were male. Again, the age of children at interview extended beyond the upper limit for the target age range (5 years) due to time lags between selecting the sample, achieving contact and conducting interviews. A smaller proportion of the child cohort, when compared to the infant cohort, were only children (11.5 per cent versus 39.1 per cent). Nearly half of the households contained two children (47.5 per cent), 26.8 per cent had three children and 14.2 per cent had four or more children. Seventy-five per cent of children were living in intact-couple families, 15.0 per cent were in lone-parent families, while 8.3 per cent were in stepfamilies.

As with the infant cohort, in the child cohort the primary carer was almost always the child’s biological parent (99.4 per cent) and female (97.3 per cent). Most (64.5 per cent) were in between 25 and 34 years old when the child was born and 15.9 per cent 24 years of age or less. Over three-quarters of primary carers (76.4 per cent) were born in Australia. In terms of education, 24.1 per cent had obtained some level of university education, 37.2 per cent had a trade certificate or diploma, 20.1 per cent completed Years 11 to 12 and 18.5 per cent had a Year 10 or less education. As with the infant cohort, a large number of primary carers (40.5 per cent) were not in the labour force when interviewed; another 15.4 per cent were employed full-time, 39.8 per cent were employed part-time and 4.3 per cent were unemployed.

Over half (58.1 per cent) of secondary carers were between 25 and 34 years when the child was born and another 34.6 per cent 35 years or older. As with primary carers, secondary carers were predominately born in Australia (73.8 per cent). Just over one in four (27.3 per cent) had obtained some level of university education, 47 per cent had a trade qualification, 13.3 per cent had completed Years 11 to 12 and 12.4 per cent had a Year 10 or less level of education. Most secondary carers (86.1 per cent) were in full-time employment, 6.6 per cent were employed part-time, 2.1 per cent were unemployed and 5.1 per cent were not in the labour force.

2.5 Methods of data collection

Participants—infant and child cohorts

Study informants for Wave 1 included:

  • primary carer (P1)
  • secondary carer, other resident parent or stepparent (P2)
  • child care providers (formal and informal)
  • teachers or carers in early education settings (preschool, child care, school)
  • the child her/himself (physical markers and direct assessment tasks)
  • some interviewer observation of the external environment.

The primary respondent is the child’s primary carer or main care giver. This person is typically the child’s biological mother, but is selected as the one who knows most about the child and its birth, history and current routines.

For the first wave of the study, the base design data collection involved an interviewer spending one to two hours in the home to:

  • obtain from the carer detailed information about the child, including his/her health and aspects of social, cognitive and behavioural development. The interview covered the key areas of health—family functioning, parenting, education, child care and social support
  • obtain sociodemographic information on the family (such as household structure and parental labour force status, educational attainment and income)—this was obtained from the primary or secondary carer
  • leave behind self-complete modules for both primary and secondary carers, covering aspects of the child’s personality and behaviour, as well as other areas of family functioning, health and support. Where time permitted, these were completed while the interviewer was in the home, to ensure a higher rate of return than from the mail-back option
  • undertake a physical measurement of the child (including height, weight, girth and head circumference)
  • administer the Adapted ‘Who am I?’ test of early literacy and numeracy and the Adapted PPVT-III (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test) of receptive language to 4 and 5 year-old children (Appendix B details the adapted versions)
  • obtain consent to contact the child’s main child care provider or teacher, plus the relevant postal address
  • obtain contact details for the parents so they can be located for future waves.
  • Full information about the interviews and content is available elsewhere (Soloff, Lawrence & Johnstone 2005).

With the permission of the primary carer, child care providers and teachers were contacted following the home visit. Letters explaining the LSAC study and self-complete questionnaires were mailed to the main child care setting/care provider or early education school or service the child attended each week. For infants, an attendance cut-off of eight or more hours a week was applied. For 4 to 5 year olds, the primary education setting was approached regardless of the number of hours attended.

Data provided by carers/teachers included characteristics of the:

  • service, including teaching practices and resources
  • carer/teacher, including education and training
  • child, including areas of concern, and for 4 to 5 year olds, ratings of the child’s skills, competencies and behaviours in social interactions with peers.

The return of carer/teacher questionnaires was in proportion to the number of children attending regular non-parental care or early education settings. For the infant cohort, 530 questionnaires were returned from a possible sample of 1,188 infants in care. For the child cohort, 3,242 questionnaires were returned, from a possible sample of 4,736 children attending a school or formal centre-based early childhood service.

To broadly assess the representativeness of the sample for which carer/teacher data was available, key demographic values were compared: mother’s age at birth, mother’s education, mother’s employment, Socio-Economic Indexes For Areas (SEIFA) disadvantage, number of children in household, weekly income, age of study child, sex of study child, Indigenous status, family structure and language other than English (LOTE) status. For the infant cohort, only one significant demographic difference was noted between the sample of children for which the carer/teacher returned the questionnaire and the sample of children whose carers/teachers were sent, but did not return, the questionnaire. Children whose carers returned the questionnaire were less likely to be exposed to a language other than English at home. For the child cohort, analyses showed that there were a number of differences between children/families of teachers/carers who returned the questionnaire and those who did not. Children whose teachers returned the forms were more likely to: have mothers who were slightly older (F(1,4700)=10.74, p<0.01); have fathers who were less likely to have a Year 12 or less level of education (X2(4,4032)=10.55, p<0.05); have families with a higher income (F(1,4447)=7.42, p<0.01) and fewer children in the household (X2(3,4753)=17.55, p<0.01); and live in more advantaged communities (higher SEIFA index) (F(1,4751)=12.52, p<0.01). Children in the subsample for whom teachers returned the questionnaire were also less likely to be from an Indigenous background (X2(1,4751)=15.37, p<0.01) or to be exposed to a language other than English at home, (X2(1,4753)=10.33, p<0.01), but did not differ by age (F(1,4752)=0.24) or gender (X2(1,4753)=0.88). Although these subsample differences were significant, the measure of association for each test was very small (eta2s between 0.003 and 0.001), suggesting that the actual differences were of minimal import. Therefore, population weights were also applied to the data provided by teachers. Note, however, that teacher information was available for only 65.4 per cent of the total LSAC sample. This lower proportion is reflected in the weighted outcomes.

Measures: infant cohort

Experience of infant child care

The child’s primary carer provided information on the child’s current and past attendance at child care. For infants, current non-parental child care was recorded if the child was ‘looked after at regular times during the week by anyone other than the primary (P1 ) or secondary care giver (P2).’ A detailed record was collected for the type of care received. This included formal long day care centres and family day services, and informal home-based care arrangements and occasional care provided in community centres and leisure settings. Occasional child care was included in the informal category because of differences in licensing and funding across states and territories. Although occasional care is provided in formal, government-regulated occasional child care centres, it is also available through unlicensed providers, such as shopping centre care, drop-in settings and church groups, where the parent is expected to be in the premises. There was not total confidence that parents were consistent in their use of the term ‘occasional care’ to refer to formal, licensed services. Therefore, the decision was made to group occasional child care with other forms of short-term child care accessed through informal settings such as gyms and leisure centres. For each current care arrangement, up to a maximum of three, parents were asked to identify the amount of care (number of days and hours attended a week) received and the number of months the child had attended the care setting. The number of different arrangements received each week was also recorded.

Past child care information included the type of first care, the child’s age when he/she entered the first care arrangement and the total of different care arrangements used since birth.

Primary carers were also asked to rate their level of satisfaction with the main child care arrangement and the main reason the child was receiving regular non-parental child care.

Quality of infant child care

Descriptive information on the context of non-parental care was provided by the child’s child care provider. Direct contributors to quality were assessed by carer self-report on the level and type(s) of carer–child involvement, the availability of space and provisions for children’s play in the centre or home environment, and for formal settings, the number of children and the number of staff, their qualifications and experience. As a further indicator of quality in formal settings, carers were also asked to rate the supportiveness of the work environment for staff.

Measures: child cohort

Experience of child care/early education for 4 to 5 year olds

The child’s primary carer (P1) provided information on the child’s current and past experience of child care and early childhood education. Current arrangements were recorded according to predetermined categories that were designed to cover the full range of formal early childhood care/education settings (that is, school, kindergarten/preschool and long day care) for 4 to 5 year olds across the different states and territories. Types of care/early education were described by Australian government and state/territory definitions and included three broad groups:

  • Pre-Year 1 programs at a school (referred to as prep, kindergarten, pre-primary, transition or reception) that are normally full-time, five days per week for 30 to 35 hours per week (for example, 9am to 3pm; 8:45am to 3:15pm), and available for children who have reached the age requirement of the state/territory.
  • Preschool programs are classified as within a school setting or outside the school system. Preschool within a school may be either full-time or part-time and are normally provided for children the year before they attend pre-Year 1. Preschool programs offered outside of the school system are provided by a community-based or privately owned centre or by a mobile service. In Victoria they are referred to as kindergarten. Preschool settings are distinguished from long day care centres by their hours and weeks of operation, typically during school hours and school terms, the use of part-time, sessional programs and a restricted age group, typically 3 year olds or 4 year olds.
  • Long day care centres are defined by the provision of at least eight hours of child care for most weeks of the year (at least 48 weeks). Long day care can be provided in community-based or privately owned premises. For this category, parents were asked to identify if the centre provided or did not provide a preschool program, or if they were not sure about the program.

Information provided by the parent on the type of education/care setting was cross-checked against the teacher’s report to ascertain accuracy. Where discrepancies were noted, information provided by the teachers was given priority.

Information was also collected from parents on the number of days and hours attended per week and the length of time the child had attended, for each type of care/early education currently attended.

Current arrangements included the ‘main’ child care/early education service as well as other, additional child care or early education services that the child attended. Types of additional care/early education were: preschool, long day care centre, before and after school care, family day care, and informal care including home-based settings and occasional care settings such as community centres and leisure settings. For each type of additional child care/early education service, information was recorded on the number of days and hours attended per week, and the length of time in months that the child had attended the setting. The total number of different arrangements attended each week was also recorded.

Past child care information included the type of first care, the child’s age when he/she entered the first care arrangement and the total number of different care arrangements used since birth.

Quality of early education

Descriptive information on the context of the child’s school, preschool or long day care program was provided by the child’s teacher or carer. Direct contributors to quality included ratings of the space and provisions for children’s play and learning, assessment of the usual amount of time spent in teacher-directed, teacher-supported and child-initiated activities, and details on the number of children and the number of staff, their qualifications and experience. As a further indicator of quality, teachers were also asked to rate the supportiveness of the work environment for staff.

2.6 Discussion

On a wide range of other demographic data the LSAC cohorts were broadly representative of the Australian population of infants aged 3 to 19 months and children aged 4 years, 3 months to 5 years, 7 months. The study children and their families were similar across both cohorts in several respects. Between the two cohorts the proportions of study children who were male/female were similar (approximately 51 per cent male). Families were similar in educational achievements and the proportion of carers who were Australian born. However, as would be expected for cohorts of different ages, the total number of children in the LSAC household was higher for the child cohort, and the number of children living in intact-couple families was lower for the child cohort.

In terms of children’s use of child care, the expectation, based on published figures, is that 34 per cent of infants aged under 1 year will be receiving non-parental child care and that 88 percent of 4 year olds will be attending a formal child care or preschool setting (ABS 2006). For the child cohort, however, the upper age range of the LSAC sample overlaps with the minimum entry age for the first year of primary school, which varies nationally from 4 years, 6 months to 5 years. Minimum school entry ages are: 5 years by January in Tasmania and South Australia; 5 years before the end of April in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria; 5 years before the end of June in the Northern Territory and Western Australia; and 5 years before the end of July in New South Wales (Press 2006). Although none of the LSAC cohort had reached the age of compulsory schooling (6 years), a sizable proportion were old enough in 2004 to have started the first year of primary school (pre-Year 1).

The LSAC study aims to describe key aspects of children’s experience of non-parental child care and early childhood education, including the amount, type, length of attendance, and stability of current care/education arrangements, as reported by parents. Some retrospective information on previous care was also collected; however, the inclusion of retrospective data was limited to the child’s first care setting due to problems of inaccuracy of recall. Also, as further waves of the LSAC study are completed, it will be possible to gather excellent records of prospective use of care for the infant cohort.

A further source of information about children’s care/early education is the child’s carer/teacher in his or her primary care/education setting. By including care providers and teachers as informants, LSAC can gather accurate data on the child’s care/early education experience that would not be available from parents. These data are designed to index program quality. Research has underlined the need to account for quality when examining the effects of the amount, type and stability of care on child outcomes. Quality is best assessed by observer ratings (see the US NICHD-ECC and UK EPPE studies), and LSAC was limited in this aspect of its child care data. Instead, LSAC opted to include direct and indirect assessments of quality via home-based and centre or school-based carers’ and teachers’ reports. Because the majority of the LSAC 4 to 5 year olds were expected to be attending an early education service (school, preschool or child care), these teacher-generated data would be sufficiently representative of early childhood programs across the nation. However, information on infant child care is limited in that data are restricted to the minority group of LSAC infants who were attending non-parental care at the time of the parent interview.

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3. Patterns of care for the infant cohort

3.1 Introduction

The increased participation of mothers of young children in the Australian workforce has led to more and more children experiencing non-parental care in the first few years of life. Based on a nationally representative sample of families, LSAC provides information on various aspects of the non-parental care experienced by Australian infants. This section answers these questions: How many infants are in care? At what age do infants typically start care? What types of formal and informal care arrangements do infants experience? How much time do infants spend in care? How many different care arrangements do infants have? Why do parents use or not use non-parental child care for their infants? Are parents satisfied with the care their infants receive?

3.2 Section summary

This section presents descriptive information provided by parents on the non-parental care experiences of their infants. Findings highlighted include:

  • Just over one-third (34.9 per cent) of the LSAC infants regularly spent time in non-parental care each week, with the majority (65.1 per cent) receiving exclusive parental care. The proportion of infants receiving non-parental care varied by age: lowest (18.0 per cent) for children 6 months and younger, increasing to 29.7 per cent for children aged between 6 and 9 months,38.7 per cent for children between 9 and 12 months, and 48.9 per cent for children older than 12 months.
  • While limited by the age range of the LSAC sample, the majority of infants who received non-parental care (67.5 per cent) had entered their first care arrangement by age 6 months. Of infants who were 12 months or older at the time of the interview (n=1,037), 47.5 per cent (n=493) had attended non-parental care prior to the age of 12 months.
  • The majority (62.1 per cent) of the infants receiving non-parental child care were in informal care settings, with grandparents being the most common providers of informal care.
  • Formal child care services were used by 37.9 per cent of the infants, with the majority being in long day care centres (28.3 per cent).
  • Infants attending formal child care services (that is, long day care centre or family day care) spent more hours in care (averages of 20.4 and 21.8 hours per week) than infants in informal settings (average of 14.0 and 14.5 hours per week).
  • Most infants in care (76.8 per cent) attended only one non-parental care arrangement each week, but almost one-quarter (23.2 per cent) had two or more arrangements each week. The most common type of multiple care arrangement was a combination of formal centre-based care and informal home-based care.
  • Most parents (72.3 per cent) of children in care cited work or study commitments as their main reason for using child care for their infant.
  • The large majority of parents with children in care (82.4 per cent) reported being very satisfied with the care arrangements they used for their infant.
  • For parents not using child care, the majority (87.3 per cent) said they did not need care; 5.6 per cent stated it was due to problems with access, affordability or quality of care.

3.3 Overview of analytic approach

Defining non-parental care

This report defines non-parental care as any regular formal or informal child care services provided by people other than the child’s parent(s), excluding casual or occasional babysitting. The primary carer is specifically asked ‘Over the past 1 month has child been looked after at regular times during the week by anyone other than you (or partner)?’ The parent is defined as either the mother and/or father with whom the child generally lives, as well as any parent living elsewhere (PLE) who has ongoing regular contact with the study child. Preliminary work was undertaken to identify when care was provided by a PLE to remove this from the analyses of descriptors of the children’s care.

Non-parental care for infants is provided through formal, government-regulated long day care centres and family day care homes, and informal, non-regulated care by relatives (including grandparents and other relatives) and non-relatives (including a nanny or other person such as a friend or neighbour). Informal care also includes occasional child care centres or care provided by a gym, leisure centre or community centre.

Statistical analyses and measures

This section presents descriptive data concerning the type, patterns, amount and stability of non-parental care received by the LSAC infants, parental reasons for using care and parental satisfaction with the infants’ care arrangements.

Type and patterns of care were described using categories derived from preliminary analyses of primary carer-reported data on the infant’s main care arrangement and up to two additional care arrangements.

Amount of care was described as total hours per week and number of days per week in the main care arrangement, and total hours per week across up to three care arrangements. We note that only 11 of the 1,782 infants in care had more than three regular care arrangements each week, and for these infants, only their time in the three arrangements in which they spent the most hours per week was included in the analyses.

Stability of care was described as the number of different care arrangements infants attended each week, as well as the mean number of care arrangements attended per year since birth. This latter measure was computed from the reported total number of different care arrangements an infant attended since birth, adjusted for the age of the infant. Age adjustments were necessary because of the wide age range of the LSAC infant cohort (3 months to 19 months).

Reasons for using child care were assessed by asking parents ‘What is the main reason why child is using regular child care arrangements at present?’ Responses were coded according to 12 predefined categories that included five reasons indexing needs of the parent (for example, parents’ work or study commitments), six reasons indexing benefits to the child (for example, good for child’s social development), and a non-specific ‘other’ category. Satisfaction with care was measured only for the main care arrangement using a single item: ‘How satisfied are you with this main care arrangement?’ This was rated on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1=very satisfied to 5=very dissatisfied.

Results are presented in a series of tables, which report figures for the number of respondents for whom the data were available. Because missing data are not included in these tables, there are variations in the total sample size reported for each table. Mean values are given with the respective 95 per cent confidence intervals (95% CI).

3.4 Type, combinations, amount and stability of care for the infant cohort

Number of infants currently receiving non-parental child care

On average, 34.9 per cent of LSAC infants (aged 3 to 19 months) had attended regular non-parental child care in the previous month (Table 2). There were 15 cases in which the only other care the infant received was from a PLE. These cases are included in the ‘does not attend care’ group. Note that in future sections, the ‘does not attend care’ group is referred to as the ‘exclusive parental care’ group.

The LSAC infants ranged in age from 3 to 19 months, with the majority (n=3,695) aged between 6 and 12 months. The proportion of infants in non-parental child care increased with age: being lowest (18.0 per cent) for children 6 months and younger (1 to 26 weeks); increasing to 29.7 per cent for children aged between 6 and 9 months (27 to 39 weeks) and 38.7 per cent for children between 9 and 12 months (40 to 52 weeks); and highest (49.8 per cent) for children older than 12 months (more than 52 weeks).

Table Description

Table 2: Number and percentage of infants in non-parental child care by age group
Age   Care No care
1–26 weeks % 18.0 82.0
95% CI 15.4–20.8 79.2–84.6
n 102 465
27–39 weeks % 29.7 70.3
95% CI 27.6–31.9 68.1–72.4
n 545 1290
40–52 weeks % 38.7 61.3
95% CI 36.4–41.0 59.0–63.6
n 728 1154
>52 weeks % 49.8 50.2
95% CI 46.2–53.3 46.7–53.8
n 408 412
Total % 34.9 65.1
95% CI 33.4–36.5 63.5–66.6
n 1,782 3,320

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals.

For the purpose of comparison with the 4 to 5 year-old cohort, further analyses were conducted to determine the proportion of infants who were receiving non-parental child care by age 12 months. The number of infants who were 12 months or older at the time of the interview was 1,037. Of these, 47.5 per cent (n=493) had attended non-parental care prior to the age of 12 months and 52.5 per cent (n=544) had not entered care prior to the age of 12 months.

Child care history: age of first entry into care

Parents were asked about their infants’ first experience of non-parental care. Information was provided for 1,911 infants, which was 129 more than the number of infants currently receiving care. Findings are reported for four age groups: birth to 3 months; 3 to 6 months; 6 to 9 months; 9 or more months (see Table 3). Note, however, that there are some limitations to the interpretation of these data. The large age range of the infant cohort (3 to 19 months) and the fact that most infants were 6 months of age or older has led to a systematic bias in the data, expressed as a relative overreporting of infants first entering child care prior to 6 months of age and an underreporting of age of first entry occurring from 6 months onward. The following summary should be considered with this in mind.

Of the parents who reported that their infant had received non-parental care, about one-third (33.9 per cent) said that this first care arrangement had started in the first three months of life, with a further one-third (33.6 per cent) stating that care began between 3 and 6 months of age. Just under one-quarter (22.9 per cent) said that the first care arrangement began between 6 and 9 months of age.

Table Description

Table 3: Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement
  Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (weeks)
  0 to 13 14 to 26 27 to 39 40 or older Total
% 33.9 33.6 22.9 9.6 100
95% CI 32.0–35.8 31.6–35.6 21.2–24.8 8.4–11.0 100
n 647 642 439 184 1,911

Current type of care attended

LSAC asks about all the regular weekly child care received by the infant and gathers specific information on up to three regular child care arrangements per week. Care categories were predefined and included formal, government-regulated long day care centres and family day care homes, and informal, non-regulated care by relatives (including grandparents and other relatives) and non-relatives (including a nanny or other person such as a friend or neighbour). We also included occasional child care or care provided by a gym, leisure centre or community centre as another form of informal care.

Main child care arrangement

The infant’s main care arrangement was defined as the arrangement in which he or she spent the most hours per week. For most infants in care (76.8 per cent), this was their only care arrangement.

Infants received their main child care across a wide range of settings (Figure 2). For those infants attending some form of non-parental care, most infants (62.1 per cent) were cared for in informal settings, with grandparents being the most common informal care providers (44.3 per cent). A smaller but significant proportion of infants attended formal care services (37.9 per cent), with the majority (28.3 per cent) attending long day care centres and the rest attending family day care (9.6 per cent). Overall, the large majority of infants in care (71.7 per cent) received their main care in small group, home-based settings, such as care by a relative and family day care. Only 28.3 per cent received their main care in large group child care centres.

Figure Description

Figure 2: Main child care arrangement

Figure 2: Main child care arrangement

Combinations of main and other care

About one-quarter (23.2 per cent) of infants in care attended more than one child care arrangement each week. These overall patterns of care are displayed in Figure 3. For those in more than one arrangement, groupings were simplified to describe the care type as formal only (single or multiple formal settings), informal only (single or multiple informal settings) or mixed formal and informal care. When infants attended more than one care arrangement, it was most likely to be a combination of formal centre-based care and informal home-based care by relatives.

Figure Description

Figure 3: Combinations of care (main and other care)

Figure 3: Combination of care (main and other)

Current amount of care received each week

Main child care arrangement

In order to present figures for the amount of care infants received in their main child care arrangement, we simplified the possible combinations (Figure 3) into the following four categories: long day care, family day care, informal relative and informal non-relative. The sample is made up of the 1,782 infants who attended care and whose main care arrangement was not a parent living elsewhere. Amount of regular care received in the main care arrangement is presented as the average number of hours per week (Table 4) and the number of days per week attended (Table 5).

In terms of the main care arrangement, infants in formal care arrangements (that is, long day care or family day care) spent more hours per week in care than infants in informal arrangements.

Table Description

Table 4: Hours per week spent in main care arrangement
  Hours per week in main care arrangement
  Long day care centre Family day care Informal—relative Informal—non-relative Total
Mean hours 19.5 20.7 13.1 14.5 17.2
95% CI 18.4–20.5 19.1–22.4 12.3–14.0 12.7–16.3 16.3–18.1
n 505 171 875 231 1,782

On average, and across each of the four care types, most infants spent one or two days in their main care arrangement (33.7 per cent and 30.6 per cent, respectively) (Table 5). Across the formal settings, the most frequent number of days attending care was two per week. Across the informal settings, the most frequent was one day per week.

Table Description

Table 5: Days per week spent in main care arrangement
Days per week Main care arrangement
  Long day care centre Family day care Informal—relative Informal—non-relative Total
1 % 25.1 14.9 42.3 34.2 33.7
95% CI 21.4–29.1 10.7–20.5 39.2–45.4 28.3–40.5 31.7–35.8
n 127 26 370 79 602
2 % 34.5 38.2 28.9 23.3 30.6
95% CI 30.8–38.4 31.9–45.0 26.0–31.9 19.0–28.3 28.7–32.6
n 174 65 252 54 545
3 % 18.7 23.3 11.2 15.6 15.1
95% CI 15.9–21.9 17.6–30.0 9.2–13.5 11.8–20.3 13.5–16.8
n 95 40 98 36 269
4 % 6.4 8.8 5.0 9.4 6.3
95% CI 4.8–8.5 5.5–14.0 3.7–6.6 6.5–13.4 5.3–7.5
n 32 15 44 22 113
5 % 15.4 14.3 9.6 15.1 12.4
95% CI 12.6–18.6 10.4–19.4 7.8–11.9 11.3–20.2 11.0–14.0
n 78 24 84 35 221
6 or 7 % 0.0 0.4 3.1 2.5 1.9
95% CI 0.00–0.0 0.1–2.5 2.2–4.4 1.1–5.2 1.3–2.6
n 0 1 27 6 34
Total % 100 100 100 100 100
95% CI 100 100 100 100 100
n 506 171 875 232 1,784

Combinations of main and other care

Amount of weekly care was also examined for infants’ overall care arrangements to give a complete picture of infants’ weekly hours of care. The average number of hours per week in care was computed for each of the five patterns of care (Table 6). Average hours/week of care across all care types was 17.2 per week, with wide individual variation (SD=13.6, range=1–72 hours).

As noted for the main care arrangement, infants attending formal care services only (that is, long day care or family day care or both) tended to spend more hours per week in care than infants in informal settings only. Infants attending both formal and informal care settings had the highest weekly hours of care (24.4).

Table Description

Table 6: Hours per week spent in care (main and other care)
  Care arrangement
  Formal only Informal only Mixed Total
  Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal  
Mean hours 20.4 21.8 14.0 14.5 24.4 17.2
95% CI 19.1–21.6 19.9–23.7 13.1–15.0 12.9–16.2 23.1–25.6 15.6–17.8

Stability of care

Multiple care arrangements

Parents were asked: ‘How many types of regular care arrangements does child have per week in total?’ As noted above, while most infants (76.8 per cent) attended only one care arrangement each week, multiple care was experienced by almost one-quarter of infants (20.6 per cent in two arrangements; 2.6 per cent in three or more care arrangements) (Table 7).

Table Description

Table 7: Number of different care arrangements per week
  Total number of care arrangements
  1 2 3 4 5 or more Total
% 76.8 20.6 2.0 0.3 0.3 100
95% CI 74.8–78.7 18.7–22.5 1.5–2.7 0.1–0.8 0.2–0.6 100
n 1,369 367 36 5 6 1,783

Changes in care

Stability of care can also be indexed by the number of changes in care arrangements that infants experience over time. Parents were asked: ‘In total, how many different regular arrangements have you used for child since birth?’ This total was adjusted for the age of the infant to yield a measure of stability computed as the number of care arrangements attended per year since birth. Age adjustments were necessary because of the wide age range of the LSAC infant cohort (3 months to 19 months).

On average, the LSAC infants in regular care had attended 1.74 care arrangements since birth. However, there was considerable variation across the sample (SD=0.91) (Table 8).

Table Description

Table 8: Average number of care arrangements per year since birth
  Average number of care arrangements attended per year since birth
  0.1 to 1 1.1 to 2 2.1 to 3 3.1 to 4 More than 4 Total
% 18.1 58.1 13.8 7.9 2.1 100
95% CI 16.5–19.9 55.9–60.2 12.6–15.2 6.7–9.2 1.6–2.8 100
n 323 1,035 246 140 38 1,782

These summary figures show that the majority of infants (76.2 per cent) who were receiving regular care at the time of the LSAC interview had experienced relatively little change in care arrangements (estimated per year): 18.1 per cent had up to one care arrangement and 58.1 per cent had up to two care arrangements since birth.

Parents who did change from their first care arrangement were asked: ‘What was the main reason you stopped using that arrangement?’ Answers provided by 281 parents indicated that the most common reason for changing from the first care arrangement was that it was not needed anymore (27.2 per cent). Other reasons noted by parents were: a change in the parent’s own work arrangements (10.0 per cent); parents (4.2 per cent) or carer (12.4 per cent) moving house; preference for a different type of care setting (6.3 per cent); problems with carers, the care environment or their child’s adjustment (5.0 per cent); and too costly or inconvenient hours/location (4.6 per cent).

Parents’ reasons for using current care arrangements

Parents were asked: ‘What is the main reason why child is using regular child care arrangements at present?’ Responses were coded according to 12 predefined categories listed in Table 9. The parents in the infant sample indicated that the most common reasons for an infant being in a non-parental child care arrangement were because of parent need. Parents’ work or study commitments were cited by 72.3 per cent of parents as their main reason for using care for their infant. A much smaller percentage of parents (5.2 per cent) cited benefits for the child as their main reason for choosing to place their child in care.

Table Description

Table 9: Reasons for infant attending non-parental care
Reasons for infant attending non-parental care n %
Parent need
    Parents' work or study commitments 1,280 72.3
    To give parent a break or time alone 169 9.6
    Parents' sport, shopping, social or community activities 167 9.4
    So parent can attend own/others’ health needs 11 0.6
    Other for parent’s benefit 20 1.1
    Subtotal 1,647 93.0
Child benefit
    It is good for the child's social development 34 1.9
    Establish relationships with relatives 30 1.7
    Other for child's benefit 10 0.6
    Mix with other children of the same age 14 0.8
    Good for intellectual/language development 2 0.1
    Respite care for the child 2 0.1
    Subtotal 92 5.2
Other unspecified 30 1.7
Total 1,769 100

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

When infants were not receiving care, 87.3 per cent of parents indicated it was because non-parental care was not needed. A small percentage of parents mentioned personal reasons or attitudes for not using care (‘child is too young’, 4.2 per cent; ‘do not want child cared for by strangers’, 1.9 per cent; ‘does not suit our culture or ethnic beliefs’, 0.2 per cent), or concerns about the child’s needs (‘child has disability’, 0.2 per cent, child would be unsettled’, 0.3 per cent, ‘not good for child’, 0.4 per cent). The remaining parents gave reasons related to problems of access or affordability of child care services (4.5 per cent) or concerns about quality of care (1.1 per cent) (Table 10).

Table Description

Table 10: Reasons for not using child care
Reasons for not using child care n %
Child does not need it 1,093 33.1
Parent is available—other care not needed 1,793 54.2
Problems with getting child care places 46 1.4
Not available locally 17 0.5
Transport problems 2 0.1
Cannot afford it—cost too high 66 2.0
Concerned with quality of care 30 0.9
Child has disability or special needs 8 0.2
Child would be unsettled in care 9 0.3
Does not suit our culture or ethnic beliefs 6 0.2
Do not want child cared for by strangers 64 1.9
Child is too young 138 4.2
Other—accessibility or affordability 16 0.5
Other—quality/program issues 5 0.2
Other—not good for child 13 0.4
Total 3,306 100

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Parent satisfaction with main care arrangement

Parent satisfaction was gathered in relation to the main care arrangement the infant attended. The majority of parents reported being ‘very satisfied’ with the care arrangement they used (82.4 per cent) or ‘satisfied’ (14.3 per cent). Only 1.3 per cent reported being ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ (Table 11). However, the highest satisfaction ratings (very satisfied) were least likely to be given to long day care centres (67.7 per cent) and most likely to be given to relative care (91.6 per cent). Family day care and non-relative care were intermediate in the frequency with which they received these highest satisfaction ratings (79.5 per cent and 82.1 per cent, respectively) (Table 12).

Table Description

Table 11: Parent satisfaction with care arrangement
  Level of satisfaction with main care arrangement
  Very satisfied Satisfied Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied Dissatisfied Very dissatisfied Total
% 82.4 14.3 1.9 1.1 0.2 100
95% CI 80.6–84.0 12.9–15.9 1.4–2.7 0.7–1.7 0.1–0.6 100
n 1,463 254 35 20 4 1,776

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Table Description

Table 12: Parent satisfaction with care by type
  Type of care (main care arrangement)
Satisfaction level   Long day care centre Family day care Informal—relative Informal—non-relative Total
Very satisfied % 67.7 79.5 91.6 82.1 82.4
95% CI 63.9–71.3 73.3–84.6 89.7–93.1 76.7–86.5 80.6–84.0
n 342 136 796 189 1,463
Satisfied % 25.2 15.7 7.6 14.7 14.3
95% CI 22.0–28.6 11.1–21.6 6.2–9.5 10.7–19.8 12.9–15.9
n 127 27 67 34 254
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied % 3.2 3.0 0.7 3.3 1.9
95% CI 2.0–4.9 1.3–6.8 0.3–1.5 1.8–6.0 1.4–2.7
n 16 5 6 8 35
Dissatisfied % 3.3 1.8 0.0 0.0 1.1
95% CI 2.1–5.3 0.6–5.1 0.0–0.0 0.0–0.0 0.7–1.7
n 17 3 0 0 20
Very dissatisfied % 0.6 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.2
95% CI 0.2–2.0 0.0–0.0 0.0–0.8 0.0–0.0 0.1–0.6
n 3 0 1 0 4
Total % 100 100 100 100 100
95% CI 100 100 100 100 100
n 505 171 870 230 1,776

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

3.5 Discussion

The majority of the LSAC infants in their first year of life were cared for exclusively by their parents. However, more than one-third of infants did spend regular time in non-parental care each week, which was due primarily to parental work and study commitments. The type of care settings infants attended varied broadly. Most infants in care (62.1 per cent) were cared for in non-regulated informal settings, with grandparents being the most common care providers. This highlights the important role of extended family members, and especially grandparents, in providing child care support for parents of infants, particularly when mothers in the family have returned to work in the infant’s first year of life. For the 37.9 per cent of infants in care attending formal, government-regulated care settings, most (28.3 per cent) were enrolled in long day care centres rather than in family day care homes (9.6 per cent).

Quality of care is important to consider, in formal as well as informal care arrangements, since in many large-scale studies of children in care, good quality care has been linked to better child outcomes and poor quality care has been shown to be a risk factor for children’s development (for example, ed. NICHD 2005). In Australia, formal child care services are required to meet regulatory standards—for example, for staff-to-child ratios, staff qualifications and group size—that underpin quality. These standards, however, vary by state or territory jurisdiction and service type. Informal services, on the other hand, tend not to be regulated by government. Quality in these settings is largely defined by the perceptions of parent users and care providers. To address this important issue, we report on indictors of quality in different types of infant care in Section 7. In Section 8, we report on the relationship between attendance at formal versus informal care and developmental outcomes.

Stability of care has typically been shown to be beneficial for children, since it enables carers and children to know each other better, and thus increases the predictability of the care giving environment. Parents reported that the majority of the LSAC infants receiving child care experienced stable care: 76.8 per cent of infants were attending only one care arrangement each week and 20.6 per cent attended two settings. Only very few infants (2.6 per cent) currently attended more than two arrangements regularly each week. In addition, most infants (76.2 per cent) had attended no more than two care arrangements per year since birth.

The amount of time infants spent in care varied widely, with the average across all care arrangements being 17.2 hours per week. However, infants attending formal care settings (for example, long day care centre or family day care) spent considerably more time in care (average of 20.4 to 21.8 hours per week) than infants in informal settings (average of 14.0 to 14.5 hours per week). In Section 4 we explore possible explanations for these differences in care use by assessing relations between family characteristics and the type and amount of care used by the LSAC infants. It is likely that differences in parents’ work commitments are responsible for much of this variation in infant care, especially since parents reported that the main reason they used care for their infants was to enable them to pursue work or formal study.

In relation to parent satisfaction, most parents with children in care (96.7 per cent) reported being very satisfied or satisfied with the main care arrangement they used for their infant. While this result is positive, it should be noted that parental satisfaction was assessed with only one item and, thus, the discriminatory power of this measure may be limited. In further waves of the LSAC study it will be possible to tap more varied aspects of parents’ views about their children’s care/education setting. For the Wave 1 data, parent satisfaction differed significantly by type of care. Parents were more likely to give higher ratings when they were using informal care provided by relatives. It is possible that this high satisfaction with informal relative care may reflect not only the parent’s assessment of the quality of care provided to their infant, but other characteristics of this care as well, including its flexibility and the fact that the carers are likely to be well known to the parents.

[ Return to Top   Return to Section ]

4. Family/child/community characteristics and patterns of care for the infant cohort

4.1 Introduction

This section explores relations between family, child and community characteristics and patterns of non-parental care, using bivariate analyses. It does so to identify factors that may explain differences in the patterns of child care experienced by LSAC infants. Parents of infants in the sample reported that the primary reason they use non-parental care for their infants is to assist them in meeting their work or study commitments. Therefore, we expect that many of the relations we identify will be influenced by the likelihood that parents, particularly mothers, are in paid employment. Patterns of care use may also be influenced by the cost and availability of care and, thus, indices of family income and neighbourhood advantage are also investigated.

Also of interest is whether characteristics of the LSAC infants themselves may be associated with patterns of care. In particular we assess relations between a child’s age and sex and patterns of care use, and whether subgroups of children—those of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background (Indigenous), those exposed to a language other than English in the home and those living in a lone-parent family—vary in their patterns of care use when compared with other children.

Finally, we explore a set of maternal characteristics, including psychological distress, separation anxiety, social support, parenting self-efficacy and parenting behaviour that are of interest for two reasons. First, they are regarded as indices of adjustment and parenting competence, and they may be influenced in a positive way when children are receiving good quality care. Non-parental child care has been conceptualised as supporting mothers’ psychological adjustment by providing parenting support for working mothers as well as ‘time out’ from the often demanding role of parenting a young child. Non-parental carers can also provide models of positive parenting behaviour for inexperienced parents or distressed parents who may have difficulty managing their child’s behaviour. However, mothers with high separation anxiety may find it difficult to leave their infant with others and avail themselves of the possible benefits of care.

Second, these maternal characteristics are of interest because they can influence the quality of care the child receives in the family. Understanding these factors and their relation to patterns of care is therefore important for understanding how family and child care variables combine to influence children’s later adjustment and functioning. This topic is discussed further in Section 8.

4.2 Section summary

This section provides information regarding relations between family, child and community characteristics and patterns of non-parental child care for the LSAC infants. Selected findings highlighted include:

  • Families with infants attending non-parental child care were more likely to have employed mothers, higher weekly household incomes, no financial stress and fewer children in the household, and to reside in more advantaged communities.
  • Younger infants were more likely to have exclusive parental care, with the proportion being highest (82.0 per cent) for infants less than 6 months, and lowest for infants aged 12 months and over (50.2 per cent). Infants in exclusive parental care were also more likely to be Indigenous or from a family speaking a language other than English in the home.
  • Mothers of infants in exclusive parental care had higher levels of separation anxiety and lacked the social support that could be a source of easily accessed informal care for their infants.
  • Families using formal long day care or informal non-relative care for their infants were more likely to have the resources available to access this care, that is, mothers were more highly educated and families had higher weekly household incomes and resided in more advantaged communities.
  • Families using care by relatives (typically grandparents) for their infants were more likely to have mothers who were younger, had only one child, were employed part-time and received adequate social support from outside the family.
  • Infants spending longer hours in care were more likely to be older and from families who spoke a language other than English at home.
  • Infants spending longer hours in care were more likely to be from families with characteristics associated with attending non-parental care—mothers were older, more highly educated, more likely to be employed full-time than part-time and had lower separation anxiety; families had higher weekly household incomes and fewer children in the household.

4.3 Overview of analytic approach

This section presents tables describing relations between characteristics of families, children and communities as well as the type and amount of non-parental care experienced by the LSAC infants.

Family demographic characteristics used were mother’s age, education, employment status and the number of children in the household.

Family finances were described by weekly household income. In addition, an index of family financial stress was determined by asking the primary parent whether he or she had experienced any of seven indices of financial hardship in the past 12 months. These included being unable to pay gas, electricity, or telephone bills on time, being unable to pay the mortgage or rent on time, adults or children going without meals, being unable to heat or cool the home, pawning or selling something, seeking assistance from a welfare or community organisation, and having financial limits on the type of food they could buy. Three summary categories of financial stress defined by the total number of indices endorsed by the parent (none, one to two, three or more) were used in this report.

Community characteristics were described by the SEIFA index (ABS 2001), which assesses the level of disadvantage of the community in which the family resides. The SEIFA index provides a general indicator of neighbourhood advantage or disadvantage based on information collected in the 2001 census. The LSAC families were linked to the SEIFA index dataset by their postcode rounded off to the nearest 10 (for example, 937 became 940) to protect the identity of the respondents’ postcodes. For this report, SEIFA scores were categorised into five groups defined by the quintile distribution of SEIFA scores for all Australian neighbourhoods, with the ‘lowest’ group representing the most disadvantaged and the ‘highest’ group the most advantaged.

Child demographic characteristics in the analysis were age and sex of the study child, and whether the he/she was of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background (Indigenous status), was exposed to a language other than English in the home or was living in a lone-parent family.

Mother’s psychological adjustment, social support and parenting were indexed by measures of psychological distress, separation anxiety, social support, parenting self-efficacy and parenting behaviour. These factors may be important for understanding the broader context of child care and its impact on the development of young children.

Mother’s psychological distress was measured by the six-item version of the Kessler scale of non-specific psychological distress (K-6) (Kessler et al. 2002). The K-6 is an effective self-report measure for predicting the presence of a mood or anxiety disorder (Furukawa et al. 2003; Kessler et al. 2003). Items (for example, ‘In the past four weeks, how often did you feel nervous?’) are rated on a five-point Likert scale (1=none of the time and 5=all of the time) and summed to provide an overall score ranging from six to 30. As recommended by the authors of the scale, mothers were identified as having clinically significant (high) levels of psychological distress when their scores were 19 or greater (Kessler et al. 2003).

Mother’s separation anxiety was assessed using six items from the Maternal Separation Anxiety Scale (Hock, DeMeis & McBride 1988). Items (for example, ‘My child is happier with me than with babysitters’ and ‘Only a mother just naturally knows how to comfort her distressed child’) are rated on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1=strongly agree to 5=strongly disagree and summed to provide an overall score ranging from six to 30.

Mother’s social support was assessed by asking mothers ‘Overall, how do you feel about the amount of support or help you get from family or friends living elsewhere?’ Response categories are: ‘I get enough help’, ‘I don’t get enough help’, ‘I don’t get any help at all’ and ‘I don’t need any help’. Distributions were examined and the responses classified into two groups: (i) mothers who reported ‘I get enough help’ and (ii) mothers who reported ‘I don’t get enough help’ or ‘I don’t get any help at all’. Those who responded with ‘I don’t need any help’ (6.9 per cent) were omitted from further analyses.

Mother’s parenting self-efficacy was assessed with a single, self-report item ‘Overall, which of the following statements best describes how you feel about yourself as a parent?’ Responses constituted a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1=not very good at being a parent to 5=a very good parent. The overwhelming majority (98 per cent) of parents rated themselves as being average or above average and were considered to have ‘higher’ parenting self-efficacy. Less than 2 per cent of parents in the infant and child cohort rated themselves as ‘not very good at being a parent’ or as ‘a person who has some trouble being a parent’. These parents were classified as having ‘lower’ parenting self-efficacy.

Mother’s parenting behaviour was a composite measure of self-report scales assessing parental warmth and hostile parenting. Parental warmth was assessed by six items regarding the frequency with which mothers display warm, affectionate behaviours towards their child (for example, ‘How often do you express affection by hugging, kissing and holding this child?’). Items are rated on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1=never/almost never to 5=always/almost always and summed to form a total warmth score ranging from six (low warmth) to 30 (high warmth). Hostile parenting was assessed with five items regarding the frequency with which the mother’s interactions with the infant are irritable and angry (for example, ‘I have raised my voice with or shouted at this child’). Items are rated on a 10-point Likert scale ranging from 1=not at all to 10=all the time and summed to form a total hostility score ranging from five (low hostility) to 50 (high hostility). The parental warmth and hostility scales were combined to form a composite parenting behaviour measure, with higher scores indicating more positive parenting behaviour (that is, more warmth, less hostility). The resulting distribution was highly skewed and could not distinguish between cases at the upper end of the scales (most parents showed positive parenting behaviours). The measure was, therefore, transformed into a dichotomous variable, with parents in the bottom 20 per cent of the distribution falling in the ‘lower’ category and the rest of the population being labelled ‘higher’.

Analysis plan. Each family, child and community characteristic was examined against the six broad categories describing types of infant child care arrangements: exclusive parental care; formal care only, subdivided into long day care only and family day care only or with long day care; informal care only, subdivided into relative care only and non-relative care only or with relative care; and mixed formal and informal care. Results are presented in a series of tables, which report figures for number of respondents for whom the data were available. Because missing data are not included in the tables, there are variations in the total sample size reported for each table. Significant differences between mean values are noted when of interest, with the criteria for significance being the non-overlap of their respective 95 per cent confidence intervals (95% CI).

Following this, analyses were repeated using a continuous measure of amount of care received, that is, hours per week in care. Correlation analyses are reported. Significant differences between mean values are also noted, with the criteria for significance being the non-overlap of their respective 95 per cent confidence intervals (95% CI).

4.4 Family/child/community characteristics by type of care for the infant cohort

A question of policy interest that can be answered using LSAC data is: What factors determine which infants are placed in non-parental care and the type of care they receive? This section presents descriptive statistics looking at the relations between family, child and community characteristics and the non-parental care experiences of the LSAC infants.

Family demographic characteristics

Mother’s age

For the most part, mother’s age was fairly consistent across families’ use of different care types. The only differences noted were a lower use of relative only care as mothers got older and a higher use of informal non-relative care by the oldest age group (35 years and above) compared to the youngest age group (<25 years) (Table 13).

Table Description

Table 13: Mother’s age in years at time of infant birth by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Mother’s age (years) %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Younger than 25 68.0 6.2 2.3 18.2 3.0 2.4 100
64.5–71.2 4.9–7.8 1.5–3.5 15.7–20.9 2.1–4.4 1.6–3.6 100
569 52 19 152 25 20 837
25 to 29 63.1 7.8 3.0 17.6 4.6 3.9 100
60.2–65.8 6.5–9.4 2.3–4.0 15.7–19.6 3.6–5.7 3.0–5.1 100
816 101 39 227 59 51 1,293
30 to 34 64.8 8.2 2.8 15.1 5.4 3.8 100
62.5–67.1 7.1–9.4 2.2–3.6 13.5–16.8 4.4–6.5 3.1–4.7 100
1,199 151 51 279 99 70 1,850
35 and above 65.4 8.4 3.2 12.4 7.1 3.4 100
62.5–68.3 6.9–10.1 2.3–4.5 10.5–14.7 5.6–9.0 2.5–4.6 100
725 93 36 138 79 38 1,109
Total 65.0 7.8 2.9 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.5–66.5 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.6–16.8 4.5–5.9 3.0–4.1 100
3,309 398 146 796 262 179 5,088

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s education

Mother’s education was an important factor in the use of non-parental child care—as education increased, care exclusively by parents decreased. Mothers with a university education were more likely to use formal care in long day care centres (10.4 per cent) or informal non-relative (8.5 per cent) care for their infants compared to mothers with Year 11 to 12 education (6.4 per cent and 4.0 per cent, respectively) or Year 10 or less education (3.6 per cent and 1.9 per cent, respectively) (Table 14).

Table Description

Table 14: Mother’s education by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Mother’s education %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Year 10 or less 78.7 3.6 2.6 11.6 1.9 1.6 100
75.6–81.5 2.6–5.1 1.6–4.2 9.5–14.1 1.1–3.1 0.9–3.0 100
608 28 20 90 14 13 773
Year 11 or 12 70.2 6.4 2.4 14.0 4.0 2.9 100
67.6–72.7 5.2–7.9 1.7–3.5 11.9–16.3 3.1–5.2 2.1–4.0 100
662 60 23 132 38 28 943
Trade certificate or diploma 64.6 8.1 2.8 16.4 4.5 3.6 100
62.4–66.7 7.0–9.4 2.1–3.7 14.7–18.3 3.6–5.7 2.8–4.5 100
1,213 152 53 309 85 67 1,879
University 55.2 10.4 3.4 17.7 8.5 4.8 100
52.7–57.7 9.1–11.9 2.7–4.3 16.0–19.6 6.9–10.3 3.9–5.9 100
819 155 50 263 126 72 1,485
Total 65.0 7.8 2.9 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.5–66.5 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.7 4.5–5.9 3.1–4.1 100
3,302 395 146 794 263 180 5,080

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s employment status

Mothers not working were more likely than mothers working to provide exclusive parental care for their infants and they were least likely to place their infants in any type of formal or informal care. Mothers employed full-time and part-time were relatively similar in their use of formal and informal care arrangements, differing only in their use of long day care. Mothers employed full-time were more likely to use long day care than mothers employed part-time (20.8 per cent and 13.0 per cent, respectively) (Table 15).

Table Description

Table 15: Mother’s employment status by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Mother’s employment status %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Full-time 28.3 20.9 7.8 24.2 10.5 8.4 100
24.4–32.6 17.4–24.8 5.9–10.4 19.8–29.1 8.1–13.3 6.1–11.5 100
116 85 32 99 43 34 409
Part-time 37.7 13.0 5.4 27.3 8.8 7.9 100
35.4–40.1 11.5–14.6 4.4–6.5 25.2–29.4 7.6–10.2 6.7–9.3 100
582 200 83 421 136 122 1,544
Not working 83.3 3.6 1.0 8.8 2.7 0.7 100
81.8–84.6 2.9–4.4 0.7–1.4 7.8–9.9 2.2–3.4 0.5–1.1 100
2,608 111 30 276 85 22 3,132
Total 65.0 7.8 2.8 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.5–66.5 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.6 14.6–16.8 4.5–6.0 3.1–4.1 100
3,306 396 145 796 264 178 5,085

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Number of children in the household

The number of siblings or other children in the household where the study child lived was significantly related to the use of non-parental child care. As the number of children in the household increased, infants were more likely to be in exclusive parental care, that is, 59.6 per cent of infants with no sibling/other child were in exclusive parental care compared to 64.6 per cent with one sibling/other child, 73.5 per cent with two siblings/other children and 76.3 per cent with three or more siblings/other children.

For infants in regular care, the number of siblings or other children in the household was also related to the type of care used. Care by a relative was highest (20.2 per cent) when the study infant was the only child in the household. Use of formal long day care centres was lowest for infants with the largest number of children in the household (4.1 per cent). Family day care and non-relative care were generally the least frequently used forms of care and their use did not vary significantly by the number of children in the household (Table 16).

Table Description

Table 16: Number of children in household by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Number of children %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
1 59.6 8.3 2.8 20.2 4.8 4.2 100
57.3–62.0 7.3–9.5 2.2–3.5 18.3–22.3 4.1–5.8 3.5–5.1 100
1,189 166 55 403 97 84 1,994
2 64.6 8.9 3.4 14.3 5.4 3.5 100
62.3–66.8 7.6–10.2 2.6–4.4 12.3–15.9 4.4–6.5 2.8–4.5 100
1,199 164 63 265 100 66 1,857
3 73.5 6.1 2.3 10.1 5.3 2.8 100
70.6–76.2 4.6–8.1 1.5–3.4 8.3–12.2 4.0–7.0 1.9–4.0 100
616 51 19 84 44 23 837
4 or more 76.3 4.1 2.0 10.7 5.6 1.4 100
71.9–80.1 2.6–6.4 0.9–4.3 8.1–14.0 3.7–8.4 0.6–3.5 100
316 17 8 44 23 6 414
Total 65.1 7.8 2.9 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.5–66.6 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.7 4.5–5.9 3.0–4.0 100
3,320 398 145 796 264 179 5,102

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Family finances

Weekly household income

In general, as families’ weekly household income increased, the proportion of infants receiving exclusive parental care decreased (Table 17). However, the pattern differed by type of infant care. Increased use of formal centre-based care, informal care by non-relatives, most likely nannies, and informal plus formal care, was associated with higher income levels. On the other hand, care by relatives was a common form of regular care for all income groups.

Table Description

Table 17: Weekly household income by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Weekly household income ($) %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Less than 600 74.7 4.6 1.9 13.7 3.6 1.6 100
71.7–77.5 3.3–6.2 1.2–3.0 11.6–16.0 2.6–4.9 0.9–2.6 100
725 44 19 133 35 15 971
600 to 999 72.8 5.9 1.9 13.8 3.2 2.5 100
70.5–74.9 4.8–7.4 1.3–2.8 12.2–15.5 2.4–4.2 1.8–3.5 100
969 79 25 184 42 33 1,332
1,000 to 1,499 61.4 9.5 3.1 17.0 4.7 4.3 100
58.9–64.0 8.2–11.0 2.3–4.1 15.0–19.2 3.7–5.9 3.4–5.5 100
769 119 38 213 59 54 1,252
1,500 to 1,999 52.8 11.1 4.6 18.0 8.1 5.5 100
49.1–56.4 9.1–13.5 3.3–6.3 15.4–20.8 6.3–10.3 4.2–7.3 100
342 72 30 116 52 36 648
More than 2,000 50.0 12.2 3.5 18.2 10.8 5.4 100
45.7–54.4 9.9–15.0 2.4–5.1 15.3–21.5 7.7–14.9 3.9–7.4 100
309 75 22 112 67 33 618
Total 64.6 8.1 2.8 15.7 5.3 3.6 100
63.0–66.2 7.3–8.9 2.3–3.3 14.6–16.9 4.6–6.1 3.1–4.1 100
3,114 389 134 758 255 171 4,821

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Financial stress

Level of family financial stress was determined by asking the primary parent whether they had experienced any of seven different indices of financial hardship in the past 12 months. Infants from families who reported no financial stresses were less likely to receive exclusive parental care and more likely to attend relative care than infants from families who experienced one or more stresses (Table 18).

Table Description

Table 18: Number of financial stresses by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Number of financial stresses %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
None 62.2 7.4 2.6 17.6 6.1 4.1 100
60.3–64.1 6.5–8.5 2.1–3.3 16.1–19.2 5.1–7.2 3.4–4.9 100
1,686 201 71 476 165 111 2,710
1 or 2 67.7 7.8 3.1 13.8 4.6 3.0 100
65.5–69.9 6.7–9.1 2.4–4.1 12.2–15.4 3.8–5.6 2.3–3.8 100
1,163 134 54 236 79 51 1,717
3 or more 70.2 9.5 3.0 12.0 2.7 2.6 100
66.4–73.7 7.6–11.8 1.9–4.8 9.7–14.8 1.8–4.2 1.6–4.1 100
450 61 19 77 17 17 641
Total 65.1 7.8 2.9 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.6–66.6 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.7 4.5–5.9 3.1–4.1 100
3,299 396 144 789 261 179 5,068

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Community characteristics

SEIFA index

Family disadvantage at the community level, indicated by very low SEIFA ratings, was broadly associated with a greater likelihood of an infant receiving exclusive parental care. Infants from the most disadvantaged communities were less likely to attend family day care (1.4 per cent) than infants in communities with ratings between 960 and 980 (5.2 per cent), and infants in the most advantaged communities were more likely to attend non-relative care than infants in communities with SEIFA ratings below 1,010 (Table 19).

Table Description

Table 19: SEIFA index (quintiles) by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
SEIFA quintiles %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
950 and lower 69.0 6.5 1.4 16.5 3.6 3.0 100
65.7–72.2 4.9–8.6 0.8–2.5 14.1–19.2 2.7–4.9 2.0–4.4 100
765 72 15 183 40 33 1,108
960–980 65.1 8.5 5.2 14.2 3.6 3.5 100
62.0–68.1 6.9–10.4 3.9–6.8 12.0–16.7 2.6–5.0 2.5–4.7 100
606 79 48 132 33 32 930
990–1,010 67.3 7.3 2.8 15.9 4.0 2.7 100
63.4–71.0 5.7–9.3 1.9–4.1 13.5–18.7 3.11–5.2 1.9–3.8 100
703 76 29 166 42 28 1,044
1,020–1,060 63.8 8.4 3.1 14.8 6.0 4.0 100
60.8–66.7 7.0–10.1 2.1–4.5 12.8–17.1 4.64–7.69 3.0–5.2 100
667 88 32 155 63 42 1,047
1,070 and higher 59.6 8.5 2.1 16.5 8.8 4.5 100
56.3–62.8 7.2–10.2 1.4–3.3 14.1–19.3 6.69–11.48 3.5–5.8 100
579 83 21 160 85 44 972
Total 65.1 7.8 2.9 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.5–66.6 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.7 4.50–5.93 3.0–4.0 100
3,320 398 145 796 263 179 5,101

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Child demographic characteristics

Child’s age

Younger infants were more likely to have exclusive parental care, with the proportion being highest (82.0 per cent) for infants less than 6 months (26 weeks and younger), mid-range for infants aged 6 to 9 months (70.3 per cent) (27 to 39 weeks) and 9 to 12 months (61.3 per cent) (40 to 52 weeks), and lowest (50.3 per cent) for infants aged 12 months and over. For all non-parental care arrangements, increased age was broadly related to an increased likelihood of attending that type of care arrangement; for example, care with relatives increased from 10.3 per cent for infants less than 6 months to 14.7 per cent for infants between 6 and 9 months, 16.6 per cent for 9 to 12 months, and 18.9 per cent for children older than 12 months (Table 20).

Table Description

Table 20: Child’s age by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Child’s age %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
26 weeks and younger 82.0 2.2 1.3 10.3 2.6 1.6 100
79.2–84.6 1.4–3.4 0.7–2.3 8.2–12.9 1.7–4.0 0.9–2.7 100
465 12 7 59 15 9 567
27 to 39 weeks 70.3 5.8 2.1 14.7 5.2 1.9 100
68.1–72.4 4.9–6.9 1.5–2.8 13.2–16.4 4.3–6.3 1.4–2.5 100
1,290 107 38 270 95 35 1,835
40 to 52 weeks 61.3 9.2 3.1 16.6 5.4 4.3 100
59.0–63.7 8.0–10.7 2.4–4.0 15.0–18.4 4.4–6.7 3.6–5.2 100
1,154 174 58 312 102 81 1,881
Older than 52 weeks 50.2 12.8 5.1 18.9 6.4 6.6 100
46.7–53.8 10.7–15.2 3.8–7.0 16.4–21.8 5.0–8.1 5.0–8.6 100
412 105 42 155 52 54 820
Total 65.1 7.8 2.9 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.6–66.5 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.7 4.5–5.9 3.0–4.0 100
3,320 398 146 796 264 179 5,103

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Child’s sex

Child’s sex was not related to differences in the use of non-parental child care or to different types of care. Boys and girls were equally likely to be in care (Table 21).

Table Description

Table 21: Child’s sex by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Child’s sex %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Male 64.9 7.7 2.9 16.0 5.0 3.4 100
63.0–66.8 6.8–8.8 2.3–3.7 14.6–17.6 4.2–5.9 2.9–4.2 100
1,699 202 77 420 131 90 2,619
Female 65.3 7.9 2.8 15.2 5.4 3.6 100
63.3–67.2 7.0–8.9 2.2–3.5 13.8–16.6 4.5–6.4 2.9–4.3 100
1,622 196 69 377 133 89 2,486
Total 65.1 7.8 2.9 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.5–66.6 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.7 4.5–5.9 3.0–4.0 100
3,321 398 146 797 264 179 5,105

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Child’s Indigenous status

Parents were asked to identify whether they were Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, both, or neither. Infants of parents who identified themselves as either Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or both were combined into one group labelled ‘Indigenous’.

Results presented in Table 22 showed that within the LSAC sample Indigenous families were more likely to be providing exclusive parental care for their infants (73.6 per cent) than non-Indigenous families (64.6 per cent). However, due to the small number of Indigenous families relative to non-Indigenous families and the non-inclusion of remote and very remote families, these data need to be treated with caution. Results also showed that for the Indigenous infants in care, the type of care arrangements attended were similar to those used by non-Indigenous infants in care.

Table Description

Table 22: Child’s Indigenous status by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Child’s Indigenous status %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Indigenous 73.6 6.8 1.4 12.4 3.4 2.3 100
68.2–78.4 4.2–10.8 0.5–3.7 8.8–17.2 1.9–6.1 1.1–4.8 100
183 17 4 31 9 6 250
Non-Indigenous 64.6 7.9 2.9 15.8 5.3 3.6 100
63.1–66.2 7.1–8.6 2.5–3.5 14.7–16.9 4.6–6.0 3.1–4.1 100
3,137 381 142 766 255 173 4,854
Total 65.1 7.8 2.9 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.5–66.6 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.7 4.5–5.9 3.0–4.0 100
3,320 398 146 797 264 179 5,104

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Language other than English spoken at home

An infant was considered to be exposed on a regular basis to a language other than English in the family if either of the study infant’s parents (who lived in the household) indicated that a language other than English (LOTE) was spoken at home. Fifteen per cent of LSAC families (n=848) identified themselves as being in this group. A total of 36 languages were reported. These included languages from many countries in Europe (Italian, Spanish, Greek, German, Serbian, Russian and others), the Middle East (Arabic, Turkish and others), Asia (Vietnamese, Filipino, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi and others), New Zealand and the Pacific Islands (Samoan, Maori, Tongan), and other areas. Numbers ranged from 110 speakers of Arabic, 82 of Vietnamese, 44 of Spanish and of Filipino, 43 of Italian, 42 of Greek, 32 of Mandarin and of Cantonese, 26 of Hindi and of German, to 20 and below for all other languages. Such a broad diversity of families makes it difficult to generalise about LOTE families; therefore the following results should be treated with caution.

In general, results showed that a higher proportion of infants from LOTE families (69.5 per cent) were receiving exclusive parental care than infants from families in which English only was spoken (64.0 per cent) (Table 23). When in care, infants from LOTE families were less likely to attend formal care arrangements, informal non-relative care, and combined informal and formal care. LOTE families were more likely to use informal care from relatives for their infants than English-only speaking families. This pattern of care may be due to cultural preferences for care provided by relatives in LOTE families, or may be the result of a greater availability of extended family, and particularly grandparents, as care providers. Further examination of the LSAC dataset would be required to address these possibilities.

Table Description

Table 23: Language spoken at home by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Language spoken at home %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
English only 64.0 8.4 3.2 14.8 5.7 4.0 100
62.4–65.6 7.6–9.2 2.7–3.7 13.7–16.0 4.9–6.6 3.5–4.6 100
2,651 347 131 613 236 166 4,144
Other language 69.5 4.8 1.5 20.4 2.5 1.3 100
65.6–73.0 3.4–6.7 0.9–2.7 17.5–23.5 1.7–3.6 0.8–2.3 100
589 41 13 173 21 11 848
Total 64.9 7.8 2.9 15.8 5.1 3.6 100
63.4–66.4 7.1–8.5 2.4–3.4 14.7–16.9 4.5–5.9 3.1–4.1 100
3,240 388 144 786 257 177 4,992

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Family type

If the primary carer indicated he or she had no partner living in the household at the time of interview, the family was identified as being a ‘lone-parent’ family. Family type (lone versus couple) was not a significant factor in whether families used non-parental care, or in the type of care arrangement chosen for infants (Table 24).

Table Description

Table 24: Family type by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Family type %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Lone parent 67.9 7.4 2.8 14.7 3.3 3.9 100
63.8–71.8 5.4–10.2 1.7–4.5 12.0–17.9 2.1–5.0 2.5–6.0 100
362 40 15 78 18 21 534
Couple 64.6 7.8 2.9 15.8 5.4 3.5 100
63.0–66.2 7.0–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.7–17.0 4.7–6.3 3.0–4.0 100
2,912 351 129 713 245 158 4,508
Total 66.0 7.8 2.9 15.7 5.2 3.6 100
63.4–66.5 7.0–8.5 2.4–3.4 14.6–16.8 4.5–6.0 3.1–4.1 100
3,274 391 144 791 263 179 5,042

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s psychological adjustment, social support and parenting

Mother’s psychological distress

Mothers’ higher and lower ratings on psychological distress did not differ significantly by the type of child care they used for their infants (Table 25).

Table Description

Table 25: Mother’s psychological distress by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Level of psychological distress %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Low 65.4 8.0 2.8 15.0 5.3 3.6 100
63.6–67.1 7.1–9.0 2.3–3.4 13.7–16.3 4.5–6.3 3.0–4.2 100
2,306 282 99 528 188 126 3,529
High 65.0 7.1 3.2 15.8 5.4 3.4 100
61.5–68.4 5.4–9.2 2.2–4.8 13.2–18.8 4.0–7.2 2.3–5.1 100
461 50 23 112 38 24 708
Total 65.3 7.9 2.9 15.1 5.3 3.6 100
63.7–66.9 7.0–8.7 2.4–3.4 13.9–16.3 4.6–6.2 3.1–4.1 100
2,767 332 122 640 226 150 4,237

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s separation anxiety

There was a general trend for mothers with higher levels of separation anxiety to be more likely to provide exclusive parental care for their infants. The mean separation anxiety score for mothers of infants in exclusive parental care was 26.0, while the mean scores for mothers of infants in non-parental care ranged from 21.4 to 23.2 (Table 26). Furthermore, as separation anxiety increased, so did the rate of infants in exclusive parental care: low anxiety=45.3 per cent; medium anxiety=65.5 per cent; high anxiety=83.4 per cent.

These findings are further explored in Table 27, which contrasts type of care received by three categories of separation anxiety: low, medium and high. As noted above, the proportion of infants receiving care decreased with increasing levels of separation anxiety, with a similar pattern for each of the five types of care.

Table Description

Table 26: Mother’s separation anxiety by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal
Mean 26.0 23.2 22.8 22.3 22.3 21.4
95% CI 25.7–26.3 22.7–23.8 22.0–23.5 21.8–22.9 21.8–22.9 20.8–22.1
n 3,221 372 141 772 255 167

Table Description

Table 27: Mother’s separation anxiety by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Level of separation anxiety %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Low 45.3 10.0 4.4 25.4 8.6 6.3 100
42.5–48.2 8.6–11.6 3.4–5.7 22.9–27.9 7.1–10.5 5.1–7.8 100
550 121 53 308 105 77 1,214
Medium 65.5 8.0 3.1 15.1 5.1 3.2 100
63.5–67.6 7.0–9.2 2.4–3.9 13.6–16.6 4.3–6.1 2.6–3.9 100
1,572 192 73 361 123 77 2,398
High 83.4 4.5 1.2 7.9 2.1 1.0 100
81.2–85.5 3.4–6.0 0.7–1.9 6.5–9.4 1.5–2.9 0.6–1.6 100
1,099 59 15 104 27 13 1,317
Total 65.4 7.6 2.9 15.7 5.2 3.4 100
63.8–66.9 6.8–8.4 2.4–3.4 14.6–16.8 4.5–5.9 2.9–3.9 100
3,221 372 141 773 255 167 4,929

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s social support

Mothers who reported receiving inadequate social support (from sources outside their home) were much less likely than mothers reporting adequate support to have their infant cared for by a relative only (6.9 per cent versus 18.1 per cent). Infants of mothers who reported inadequate social support were more likely than infants of mothers with adequate social support to receive exclusive parental care and long day care only (Table 28). Mothers reporting inadequate social support may have fewer friends and relatives that they can call upon for assistance in caring for their infants and thus be more likely to use formal care arrangements like long day care or to care for their infants exclusively themselves.

Table Description

Table 28: Mother’s social support by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Social support %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Gets enough support 63.0 6.9 2.7 18.1 5.2 4.2 100
61.0–64.9 6.0–7.8 2.2–3.3 16.6–19.7 4.5–6.1 3.5–5.0 100
1,868 204 79 536 155 124 2,966
Does not get enough support 70.4 10.9 3.3 6.9 6.4 2.2 100
67.7–73.0 9.2–12.8 2.4–4.5 5.5–8.6 4.9–8.3 1.5–3.2 100
687 106 32 67 62 22 976
Total 64.8 7.9 2.8 15.3 5.5 3.7 100
63.4–66.5 7.0–8.8 2.3–3.4 14.1–16.6 4.8–6.4 3.2–4.3 100
2,555 310 111 603 217 146 3,942

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s parenting self-efficacy

Mothers with lower parenting self-efficacy were more likely than mothers with higher parenting self-efficacy to use long day care centres for infant care (10.1 per cent versus 7.1 per cent). No other differences in type of care use were noted (Table 29).

Table Description

Table 29: Mother’s parenting self-efficacy by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Level of parenting self-efficacy %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Higher 65.8 7.1 2.8 15.8 5.1 3.4 100
64.1–67.5 6.4–8.0 2.3–3.3 14.6–17.0 4.4–6.0 2.9–4.0 100
2,648 287 111 635 207 137 4,025
Lower 62.5 10.1 3.1 15.0 5.3 4.0 100
59.7–65.3 8.5–12.0 2.2–4.4 12.8–17.4 4.2–6.7 3.0–5.5 100
655 106 33 157 55 42 1,048
Total 65.1 7.8 2.8 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.6–66.6 7.0–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.7 4.5–5.9 3.1–4.1 100
3,303 393 144 792 262 179 5,073

Mother’s parenting behaviour

Parenting behaviour was assessed by a composite measure combining maternal self-report scales indexing parental warmth and hostility (reversed). Higher scores indicate more positive parenting behaviour. Children of mothers reporting more positive parenting behaviour (that is, more warmth and less hostility) were more likely to provide exclusive parental care for their infants (66.1 per cent) and less likely to place their infants in long day care centres (7.1 per cent) than mothers reporting less positive parenting behaviour (60.9 per cent and 10.6 per cent, respectively). Mothers reporting higher versus lower levels of positive parenting behaviour did not differ in their use of family day care or informal relative and non-relative care for their infants (Table 30).

Table Description

Table 30: Mother’s parenting behaviour by type of care arrangement
  Care arrangement
  Parental Formal Informal Mixed  
  Exclusive parental care Long day care only Family day care only or with long day care Relative only Non-relative only or with relative Informal plus formal Total
Positive parenting behaviour %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Higher 66.1 7.1 2.7 15.9 5.0 3.2 100
64.5–67.7 6.3–7.9 2.3–3.3 14.8–17.1 4.2–5.8 2.7–3.7 100
2,669 286 110 642 200 128 4,035
Lower 60.9 10.6 3.2 14.4 6.1 4.9 100
58.0–63.7 8.9–12.5 2.3–4.5 12.3–16.7 4.9–7.6 3.8–6.2 100
620 108 33 147 62 50 1,020
Total 65.1 7.8 2.8 15.6 5.2 3.5 100
63.5–66.6 7.1–8.6 2.4–3.4 14.5–16.8 4.5–6.0 3.1–4.1 100
3,289 394 143 789 262 178 5,055

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

[ top ]

4.5 Family/child/community characteristics by amount of care for the infant cohort

In this section we present descriptive statistics showing relations between family, child and community characteristics and the amount of non-parental care experienced by the LSAC infants. The amount of care for each infant was indexed by the total number of hours per week they regularly spent in care.

Family demographic characteristics

Mother’s age

The relationship between the number of hours infants spent in care and the age of the mother at the time of the child’s birth was examined using Pearson’s correlation. Mother’s age correlated positively with the average number of hours an infant spent in non-parental care each week. Although significant, the relationship between the two variables was not strong, r=0.09, p<0.01.

Mother’s education

Infants with mothers who had more than a Year 12 education (trade certificate, diploma or university) spent, on average, longer hours in care (Table 31). This longer time in care may be related to the longer working hours of mothers with higher levels of education.

Table Description

Table 31: Mother’s education by hours in care
Maternal education Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Year 10 or less 15.1 13.1–17.2 164
Year 11 or 12 15.0 13.7–16.2 281
Trade certificate or diploma 18.1 17.0–19.2 665
University 17.7 16.8–18.7 665

Mother’s employment status

There was a strong, statistically significant trend indicating that the more hours worked by the mother, the more hours per week her infant spent in non-parental child care (Table 32).

Table Description

Table 32: Mother’s employment status by hours in care
Mother’s employment status Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Full-time 35.3 33.8–36.8 293
Part-time 15.9 15.3–16.5 962
Not working 9.5 8.7–10.4 525

Number of children in the household

Similar to the findings for type of care, the number of siblings or other children in the household where the study child lived was an important factor in the amount of care received. Weekly hours of care decreased as the number of siblings/other children increased. The difference in mean hours of care per week for infants only (18.3 hours) versus infants with three or more siblings/other children in the household (15.1 hours) was significant (Table 33). Families with more children may use less child care because mothers are less likely to be employed, and the increasing cost of care with multiple children may also be a factor.

Table Description

Table 33: Number of children in household by hours in care
Number of children Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
1 18.3 17.4–19.1 802
2 17.0 15.9–18.1 657
3 14.9 13.4–16.4 222
4 or more 15.1 12.5–17.7 98

Family finances

Weekly household income

As weekly household income increased, so did hours of infant non-parental care. Infants from families in the two lowest income categories had significantly fewer hours in care than infants from families in the two highest categories (Table 34). Families with higher incomes are likely to have parents working longer hours, who both need care for their children and have the financial capacity to pay for that care.

Table Description

Table 34: Weekly household income by hours in care
Weekly household income ($) Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Less than 600 13.3 11.6–15.1 245
600–999 13.3 12.1–14.5 363
1,000–1,499 17.3 16.1–18.4 483
1,500–1,999 19.4 17.9–20.9 306
More than 2,000 22.2 20.7–23.7 309

Financial stress

Financial stress was not related to the mean number of hours infants spent in non-parental care each week (Table 35).

Table Description

Table 35: Number of financial stresses by hours in care
Number of financial stresses Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
None 17.8 17.0–18.6 1,024
1 or 2 16.0 14.9–17.0 554
3 or more 17.4 15.5–19.3 191

Community characteristics

SEIFA index

The correlation between the community rating of disadvantage (SEIFA index) and the hours an infant spent in care was examined. There was no significant correlation between the two measures.

Child demographic characteristics

Child’s age

Correlation statistics were used to assess the relation between child’s age and hours in care, both as continuous variables. The result indicated that as infants increased in age, they were more likely to spend longer hours in care, r=0.09, p<0.01. Infants older than 52 weeks spent more hours in care each week than younger infants (Table 36), presumably because their mothers were more likely to be employed for longer hours.,

Table Description

Table 36: Child’s age by hours in care
Child’s age (weeks) Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
26 and younger 15.2 12.4–17.9 102
27 to 39 16.3 15.2–17.4 545
40 to 52 17.0 16.1–17.9 728
Older than 52 19.2 17.9–20.6 408

Child’s sex

There was no difference between male and female infants in the average number of hours per week spent in care (Table 37).

Table Description

Table 37: Child’s sex by hours in care
Child’s sex Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Male 17.2 16.3–18.0 918
Female 17.2 16.3–18.1 863

Child’s Indigenous status

There was no difference in the number of hours infants spent in care each week based on Indigenous status (Table 38). This result should be interpreted cautiously, however, due to the small number of Indigenous infants in care in the LSAC sample.

Table Description

Table 38: Child’s Indigenous status by hours in care
Child’s Indigenous status Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Indigenous 16.5 12.8–20.3 65
Non-Indigenous 17.2 16.6–17.9 1,716

Language other than English spoken at home

Infants living in a LOTE household had longer hours of care than infants in English-only speaking homes (Table 39).

Table Description

Table 39: Language spoken at home by hours in care
Language spoken at home Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
English only 16.4 15.8–17.0 1,493
Other language 21.5 19.2–23.7 259

Lone-parent versus couple family

If the primary carer indicated he or she had no partner living in the household at the time of the interview, the family was identified as being a lone-parent family. Family type (lone versus couple) was not a significant factor in the average number of hours per week infants spent in non-parental child care (Table 40).

Table Description

Table 40: Family type by hours in care
Family type Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Lone parent 17.0 14.8–19.2 171
Couple 17.2 16.6–17.9 1,596

Mother’s psychological adjustment, social support and parenting

Mother’s psychological distress

Infants of mothers higher in psychological distress did not differ in the number of hours spent in care from infants of mothers lower in psychological distress (Table 41).

Table Description

Table 41: Mother’s psychological distress by hours in care
Level of psychological distress Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Low 16.6 15.8–17.3 1,223
High 17.6 16.0–19.2 248

Mother’s separation anxiety

There was a significant but very weak negative relationship between mothers’ separation anxiety and the hours an infant spent in care. As level of mothers’ separation anxiety increased, the number of hours infants spent in care decreased. The correlation between hours in care and mothers’ separation anxiety was: r=–0.08, p<0.01.


Mother’s social support

Infants of mothers who received adequate support did not differ from infants of mothers who did not get enough support in terms of the hours they spent in care (Table 42).

Table Description

Table 42: Mother’s social support by hours in care
Social support Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Gets enough support 16.5 15.7–17.3 1,098
Does not get enough support 16.9 15.4–18.4 289

Mother’s parenting self-efficacy

Infants of mothers with lower parenting self-efficacy did not differ from infants of mothers with higher self-efficacy in terms of the hours they spent in care (Table 43).

Table Description

Table 43: Mother’s parenting self-efficacy by hours in care
Level of parenting self-efficacy Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Higher 16.9 16.2–17.5 1,376
Lower 18.1 16.7–19.6 393

Mother’s parenting behaviour

Infants of mothers with higher versus lower levels of positive parenting behaviour did not differ in the number of hours they spent in non-parental care (Table 44).

Table Description

Table 44: Mother’s parenting behaviour by hours of care
Positive parenting behaviour Hours per week of care
Mean 95% CI n
Higher 17.4 16.6–18.1 1,367
Lower 16.2 14.8–17.6 399

4.6 Discussion

The findings presented in this chapter have identified clusters of characteristics differentiating families whose infants attended non-parental child care from families whose infants experienced exclusive parental care. While these findings are useful in pointing out directions for further investigation, it is important to note that the results are based on bivariate relationships which do not take account of other, possibly confounding, effects. Any specific causal interpretations would need to be tested with statistics that control for possible confounding variables.

Mothers with infants in child care were more likely to be in the workforce and, therefore, to need alternate care arrangements for their infants. Families of infants who received non-parental child care were also more likely to be economically advantaged, with higher weekly household incomes, no indices of financial distress and living in relatively advantaged communities. Thus, users of infant child care appeared to be families who were more able to afford paid care, or who had access to child care services, including family members who could provide care.

In contrast, families of infants receiving exclusive parental care were more likely to have larger numbers of children living in the household and infants younger in age, and to come from cultural groups (that is, Indigenous and LOTE) either economically less advantaged or perhaps with cultural values supporting exclusive parental care for their infants.

Mothers of infants in exclusive parental care were also more likely to report higher levels of anxiety about being separated from their infant, which may have led them to be less comfortable with entrusting their infant’s care to anyone other than themselves or the infant’s father. Furthermore, mothers of infants in exclusive parental care reported receiving lower levels of social support, suggesting they may have less access to informal care providers than mothers reporting higher levels of social support.

Lone-parent families were no more likely than couple families to use non-parental care for their infants. Girls and boys were also equally likely to attend non-parental care.

Within the group of infants receiving child care, families using long day care centres or non-relative care (such as nannies) were identified by characteristics associated with the ability to afford these forms of care, including higher levels of maternal employment, higher maternal education and higher weekly household income. Family users of these forms of child care also resided in more advantaged communities, where such services were likely to be available.

Families using relatives to care for their infants were identified by a different cluster of characteristics. Mothers in these families were more likely to be younger, to have only one child, to be employed part-time (rather than full-time) and to report adequate levels of social support. Most care by relatives was provided by the study infants’ grandparents, who appear to be a strong source of support for younger mothers with their first infant who are working part-time.

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5. Patterns of care and early education for the child cohort

5.1 Introduction

By the time Australian children reach 4 to 5 years of age, most have attended a formal long day care centre or an early education setting, such as preschool. Depending on the state or territory where the family lives, preschool may be provided within the school sector. State and territory policies account for differences in the age that children are able to enter a formal pre-Year 1 program at school. This section answers the following questions:

  • What proportion of 4 to 5 year-old children attend child care and early education settings (including school)?
  • At what age do children typically start to attend non-parental child care or early education programs?
  • What types of child care and early education settings do children attend?
  • How much time do children spend in these settings?
  • How many different child care and early education settings do children attend concurrently?
  • Why do parents use child care/early education for their children?
  • Are parents satisfied with the child care and early education their children receive?

5.2 Section summary

This section presents descriptive information provided by parents on the non-parental child care and early education experiences of their 4 to 5 year-old children. Selected findings highlighted include:

  • Almost all 4 to 5 year olds (96.3 per cent) were attending some type of child care or education service each week, with the vast majority (95.1 per cent) receiving a formal centre or school-based early childhood program. Just over half the children (54.6 per cent) attended preschool, one-half of which were provided in a school and one-half in settings outside the school system. Just under one-quarter (23.9 per cent) attended a long day care centre and 16.5 per cent were in their first year (pre-Year 1) of formal school.
  • A substantial proportion (37.2 per cent) of children attended child care/early education additional totheir main early childhood program. The most common pattern was to add an informal care arrangement with a relative (24.4 per cent). The rest (12.8 per cent) used an additional formal care/education service, such as preschool, long day care centre, family day care, or outside school hours care. Children receiving multiple care/education typically attended two settings each week (28.7 per cent), but some attended three (6.0 per cent), and small proportion attended four or more (1.1 per cent).
  • The majority of parents (69.7 per cent) who used additional care beyond their main care/education arrangement did so to meet their work or study needs.
  • In terms of children’s child care history, almost one-quarter (24.2 per cent) of children had started some kind of non-parental child care/early education before they were 1 year of age. The proportion attending these services increased to 59.4 per cent before 3 years of age and 80.0 per cent before age 4. The remaining 20.0 per cent of children had entered a care/education setting after the age 4 years.
  • Children attending preschool programs only had the shortest hours of care/education each week (12.3 to 13.7 hours), while children attending school-based pre-Year 1 programs or long day care centres with additional care arrangements had the longest weekly hours of care/education (32.2 to 33.9 hours). Children attending long day care only had an intermediate number of hours each week (22.0 hours), which was similar to children attending preschool programs with additional care (24.4 to 26.0 hours).
  • Most parents reported being ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with their main care/education arrangement and there was little variation in level of satisfaction across the different care/education settings.

5.3 Overview of analytic approach

Defining non-parental child care and early childhood education

This report defines non-parental child care and early childhood education as any regular formal or informal child care or early education service provided by people other than the child’s parent(s), excluding casual or occasional babysitting. To identify the children receiving an early childhood education program, the primary carer is first asked: ‘Does child go to a school, kindergarten, preschool or a day care centre?’ This is followed by a question on additional forms of care: ‘Apart from (the school or preschool program we have discussed) has child been looked after at regular times during the week by anyone other than you (or partner) over the past one month?’ The parent(s) is defined as the mother and/or father with whom the child generally lives, as well a parent living elsewhere who has ongoing regular contact with the study child. Preliminary work was undertaken to identify when care was provided by a parent living elsewhere to remove this category from the analysis of children’s child care/early education.

Early childhood education and care for 4 to 5 year-old children can be accessed through schools, preschool/kindergarten settings, or long day care centres. Each state and territory provides some preschool programs for 4 to 5 year-old children in the year before they enter school. Additional child care provisions include formal government-regulated long day care centres, family day care, as well as outside school hours care programs for children attending school. Child care also comprises informal non-regulated home-based care from relatives and non-relatives, as well as occasional child care or care provided by a gym, leisure centre or community centre.

Statistical analyses and measures

This section presents descriptive data on the type, patterns, amount and stability of non-parental care and early education received by the LSAC children, and parents’ reasons for, and satisfaction with, their child’s care/education arrangements.

Type and patterns of care were described using categories derived from preliminary analyses of primary carer reported data on the child’s main early childhood education and care arrangement (pre-Year 1 program, preschool, day care centre) and up to three additional care/education arrangements.

Amount of care/education was described in terms of total hours per week and number of days per week in the main care/education arrangement, and total hours per week across the main care/education arrangement and up to three additional arrangements.

Stability of care was described in terms of the number of different care/education arrangements children attended each week, as well as the mean number of care/education arrangements attended per year since birth. This latter measure was computed from the reported total number of different care arrangements a child attended since birth, adjusted for the age of the child. Age adjustments were necessary because of the wide age range of the LSAC child cohort (51 to 67 months).

Parents’ reasons for using child care additional to their main care/education arrangement were assessed by asking: ‘What is the main reason why child is using (other) regular child care arrangements at present?’ Responses were coded according to 12 predefined categories that included five reasons indexing needs of the parent (for example, parents’ work or study commitments), six reasons indexing benefits to the child (for example, good for child’s social development), and a non-specific ‘other’ category. Satisfaction with care was measured for the main care/education arrangement only using a single item: ‘How satisfied are you with this (school/kindergarten/preschool/day care)?’ rated on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1=very satisfied to 5=very dissatisfied.

5.4 Type, combinations, amount and stability of care and early education for the child cohort

Number of children in care/education

The vast majority of 4 to 5 year olds (96.3 per cent) were attending some type of child care or early education service (including school) each week. The next subsection reports types of care/early education for the main setting and for combinations of child care and education across single or multiple settings.

Child care history: age of first entry into care

Parents were asked to report how old their child was when he or she first attended a child care or early education setting. Close to one-quarter (24.2 per cent) of children were reported to have first entered care before 1 year of age and 59.4 per cent attended some form of child care before 3 years of age. For 20.0 per cent of the child cohort, their first experience of care/education was not until at least 4 years of age (Table 45).

The percentage of the 4 to 5 year-old child cohort reported as entering care before 1 year of age (24.2 per cent) is considerably lower than the 47.5 per cent of infants who were 12 months or older at the time of the interview and had attended non-parental care prior to the age of 12 months. This finding represents an important distinction between the infant and child cohorts of LSAC. However, it should be noted that the data for the child cohort was reported retrospectively and the accuracy of these reports is difficult to determine.

Table Description

Table 45: Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement
  Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (years)
  <1 1 to <2 2 to <3 3 to <4 4+ Total
% 24.2 18.0 17.2 20.6 20.0 100
95% CI 23.0–25.5 17.0–19.1 16.1–18.5 19.5–21.7 18.5–21.5 100
n 1,170 870 831 993 964 4,828

Current type of care/education attended

LSAC asks about all regular weekly care/education received by the study child. Information was gathered on the main centre-based child care or early childhood education arrangement and up to three additional regular care/education arrangements per week. Care/education categories were predefined and included school-based pre-Year 1 programs (prep, kindergarten, reception, transition, or pre-primary), preschool programs in school settings or not in a school, long day care centres with or without preschool programs, before and after school care programs, and family day care homes. Care also included informal, non-regulated care by relatives (including grandparents and other relatives) and non-relatives (including a nanny or other person such as a friend or neighbour). Informal care also included occasional child care centres or care provided by a gym, leisure centre or community centre.

Main care/education arrangement

Parents were asked whether their child attended a school, preschool, kindergarten or day care centre. The most common setting was preschool (54.6 per cent, made up of 27.9 per cent in a school-based preschool and 26.7 per cent in a preschool not in a school setting). About one-quarter of children (23.9 per cent) were attending a long day care centre as their main care/early education arrangement and 16.5 per cent had started a pre-Year 1 school program. Only 4.9 per cent of the children did not attend any formal centre or school-based based setting and, of these, 1.2 per cent were in home-based family day care or informal care settings and 3.7 per cent were in exclusive parental care (Table 46).

Table Description

Table 46: Main care/education arrangement
Main care/education arrangement n %
Exclusive parental care 186 3.7
Family day care or informal care 59 1.2
Pre-Year 1 (in school) 822 16.5
Preschool (in a school) 1,390 27.9
Preschool (outside a school) 1,332 26.7
Long day care centre 1,193 23.9
Total 4,982 100

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Teachers in centre and school-based settings were asked to provide information on the administrative/organisational basis under which the program operates. For all school-based programs: 76.0 per cent (n=1,097) were located in state or territory government schools; 11.6 per cent (n=168) were in Catholic schools; and 12.3 per cent (n=178) were within the Independent schools system. For preschool located within a school: 81.7 per cent (n=709) were in government schools; 9.2 per cent (n=80) were in Catholic schools; and 9.1 per cent (n=79) were in Independent schools. For care/education programs in settings not in a school: 65.6 per cent (n=1,042) were administered by non-profit organisations such as local government, religious faiths, community-based groups and education institutions; 25.4 per cent (n=404) were for-profit, being a private or franchised centre or a commercial child care chain; the remaining 9.0 per cent identified as being employer-sponsored (n=72) or ‘other’ (n=71).

Combinations of main and other care/education

A total of 37.2 per cent of the LSAC child cohort attended care/education services additional to the main centre or school-based setting indicated above. The following tables (Tables 47, 48 and 49) set out the groupings used to describe the combinations of care settings for all children in the sample.

Table 47 gives a comprehensive breakdown of main and other care/education arrangements attended by the children. The first two rows refer to children who did not receive any centre or school-based care/education. The next four rows identify children who attended a single arrangement in one of the four main centre or school-based care/education settings. The next eight rows describe the most common groupings for multiple arrangements. These include each of the four main settings with additional care/education either in a formal setting (preschool, long day care, family day care, outside school hours care) or in an informal setting (relatives or non-relatives). Where children attended more than two arrangements per week, comprising formal and informal settings (mixed formal and informal), they were included with the appropriate formal (pre-Year 1, preschool, long day care) plus informal group. The defining characteristic is that these children received a centre-based care/education program plus additional informal care.

Where children were attending two or more care/education settings, the most common pattern was to add an informal care arrangement with a relative or non-relative to the main centre or school-based care/education arrangement.

Table Description

Table 47: Combinations of care/education settings
Combinations of care/education arrangements—14 categories n %
No centre or school-based care/education    
    Exclusive parental care 186 3.7
    Family day care or informal 59 1.2
Single setting   '
    Pre-Year 1 only 545 10.9
    Preschool in school only 798 16.0
    Preschool not in a school only 797 16.0
    Long day care centre only 742 14.9
Multiple settings    
    Pre-Year 1 plus other formal care/education 92 1.9
    Pre-Year 1 plus other informal care with/without formal care/education 185 3.7
    Preschool in school plus other formal care/education 227 4.6
    Preschool in school plus other informal care with/without formal care/education 365 7.3
    Preschool not in a school plus other formal care/education 150 3.0
    Preschool not in a school plus other informal care with/without formal care/education 385 7.7
    Long day care plus other formal care/education 166 3.3
    Long day care plus other informal care with/without formal care/education 284 5.7
Total 4,982 100

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

The 14 categories describing no centre or school-based care, single and multiple care/education arrangements were simplified to generate eight categories (Table 48). These describe children:

  • who did not attend centre or school-based care/education (4.9 per cent)
  • in pre-Year 1 school programs with or without additional before or after school care (16.5 per cent)
  • attending preschool in a school, as a single arrangement (16.0 per cent) and with additional care/education arrangements (11.9 per cent)
  • attending a preschool not in a school, as a single arrangement (16 per cent) and with additional care/education arrangements (10.7 per cent)
  • attending a long day care centre, as a single arrangement (14.9 per cent) and with additional care/education arrangements (9.0 per cent).

These eight groups are used in all further analyses of care/education type.

Table Description

Table 48: Combinations of care/education settings
  Combinations of care/education arrangements—eight categories
  Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
  Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
n 245 822 798 592 797 535 742 450 4,982
% 4.9 16.5 16.0 11.9 16.0 10.7 14.9 9.0 100

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Current amount of care/education received each week

Hours per week in care/education

Parents were asked to report the number of hours per week a child attended each care/education arrangement. These were summed to estimate the mean number of hours per week the child spent across the different care/education arrangements. Children attending preschool programs only had the shortest hours of care/education each week (preschool in a school: 13.7 hours; preschool not in a school: 12.3 hours), while children attending pre-Year 1 programs or long day care centres with additional care arrangements had the longest mean hours of care/education each week (32.2 hours and 33.9 hours, respectively). Children attending a single long day care centre spent an intermediate number of hours in care/education each week (22.0 hours), which was similar to children attending preschool programs with additional care (range=24.4 to 26.0 hours) (Table 49).

Table Description

Table 49: Hours per week spent in care/education arrangements
  Combinations of care/education arrangements
  Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care
  Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education
Mean (hours) 32.2 13.7 26.0 12.3 24.4 22.0 33.9
95% CI 31.6–32.8 13.3–14.1 25.2–26.8 12.0–12.6 23.4–25.3 21.0–22.9 32.5–35.4

Length of time in main care/ education arrangement (months)

Parents were asked: ‘How long has child been at this (school/kindergarten/preschool/day care centre)?’ On average, children had been attending a school-based program (either pre-Year 1 or preschool) for about half a year (4.6 and 6.6 months, respectively) (Table 50). In contrast, children in preschools not in a school setting had attended the program for close to one year (11.2 months). Children in long day care centres had been attending for the longest period, that is, close to two years (23.4 months). It is important to note that this data refers to the child’s current main care/education arrangement, and it is possible that children currently in pre-Year 1 or preschool programs may have attended a different preschool or long day care program in their earlier years.

Table Description

Table 50: Length of time in main care/education arrangement (months)
  Main care/education arrangement
  Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care
Mean (months) 4.6 6.6 11.2 23.4
95% CI 4.2–5.0 6.3–7.0 10.7–11.7 22.6–24.2

Parent satisfaction with main care/education arrangement

Parents were asked how satisfied they were with the main care/education arrangement their child was attending. Ratings were done on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (very satisfied) to 5 (very dissatisfied). In general, parents reported being ‘very satisfied’ (1) or ‘satisfied’ (2) with their child’s main care/education arrangement. Average levels of satisfaction were very similar across all care/education settings (Table 51).

Table Description

Table 51: Parent satisfaction with child’s main care/education arrangement
  Main care/education arrangement
  Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care
Mean 1.4 1.4 1.4 1.5
95% CI 1.4–1.5 1.4–1.5 1.4–1.4 1.4–1.5

Stability of care/education

Multiple care/education arrangements

Parents were asked ‘How many types of regular care arrangements does child have per week in total, including any school or preschool/kindergarten?’ Most children were attending only one care/education arrangement (60.5 per cent), but a sizable proportion were in two or more arrangements (35.8 per cent). Two care/education arrangements was the most common experience of multiplicity, but some children attended three, four or five arrangements a week (Table 52).

Table Description

Table 52: Number of current regular care/education arrangements a week
Number of weekly care/education arrangements n %
0 186 3.7
2 3,015 60.5
2 1,431 28.7
3 297 6.0
4 43 0.9
5 9 0.2
Total 4,982 100

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals.

Changes in care/education

Stability of care can also be indexed by the number of changes in care arrangements children experience over time. Parents were asked: ‘In total, how many different regular arrangements have you used for child since birth?’ The total was adjusted for the age of the child to yield a measure of stability computed as the number of care arrangements attended per year since birth. The mean number of care/education arrangements attended per year since birth was 0.42, indicating considerable stability of care for most children in the 4 to 5 year-old cohort (Figure 4). However, this measure of stability will be influenced by the age of the child at the time of the LSAC interview and also by the age at which the child first started care. It is important also to note that for the child cohort, all reports of the number of care arrangements since birth are retrospective accounts and the accuracy of these reports is difficult to determine.

Figure Description

Figure 4: Number of care/education arrangements per year (since birth)

Figure 4: Number of care/education arrangements per year (since birth)

Parents’ reasons for using additional care/education arrangements

Parents of 4 to 5 year-old children using more than one care/education arrangement a week were asked:‘What is the main reason why child is using (other) regular child care arrangements at present?’ Responses were coded according to 12 predefined categories (Table 53). The majority of parents (69.7 per cent) who used additional care said they used this to meet work or study needs, enhance the child’s social development with peers (8.6 per cent) or establish relationships with grandparents or another relative (4.2 per cent).

Table Description

Table 53: Reasons for using additional care/education
Reasons for using additional care/education n %
Parent need    
    Because of parents’ work or study 1,269 69.7
    Because of parents’ sport and so on 102 5.6
    To give parent a break or time alone 100 5.5
    Parents’ own/other health needs 7 0.4
    Other for parents’ benefit 14 0.8
Subtotal 1,492 81.8
Child benefit    
    It is good for child’s social development 117 6.4
    To establish relationships with grandparents or other relative 77 4.2
    To mix with other children of same age 41 2.2
    It is good for child’s intellectual development 35 1.9
    Respite care for the child 6 0.3
    Other for child’s benefit 21 1.1
Subtotal 297 16.3
    Other unspecified 34 1.0
Total 1,823 100

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

5.5 Discussion

The vast majority (95.1 per cent) of the LSAC 4 to 5 year-old children were attending a centre or school-based child care or early education service. Due to the age range of the children in the study, some were old enough to attend a pre-Year 1 program at school (16.5 per cent). The majority were attending preschool (54.6 per cent), almost equally divided between preschool programs in school and not in a school setting. The remaining children in the sample either attended long day care centres (23.9 per cent), or were not currently attending any large group, centre-based care or education arrangements (4.9 per cent). Based on the literature, we would expect that attending an early education program in a preschool or long day care centre would enhance children’s cognitive development and facilitate their performance in their transition to school. Concomitantly, we would expect that children without this formal educational experience may find the transition to school more challenging. We will address these issues in our analyses of child outcomes in Section 8.

Parents reported that most children (60.5 per cent) were attending only one care/education setting each week and that there had been relatively few changes in the child’s care/education arrangements since birth. This trend towards stable care/education arrangements should help support children’s adaptation and learning. It is important to note, however, that LSAC does not ascertain the degree of stability of care within each setting, which is affected, for example, by staff changes in a centre or by children being moved from one room to another.

As with the infant cohort, many parents of 4 to 5 year olds used more than one care/education arrangement to fulfil their work or study commitments. The perceived benefits for the child, when noted by parents, tended to focus on children’s social development. Parents reported that the additional care arrangements enhanced their child’s social competence with peers or provided the opportunity for their child to establish stronger relationships with grandparents or other relatives. Such relationships are likely to be beneficial for the child and the parents who benefit from the support extended family relationships provide.

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6. Family, child and community characteristics and patterns of care and early education for the child cohort

6.1 Introduction

This section explores relations between family, child and community characteristics and the patterns of non-parental child care and early education identified for the 4 to 5 year-old cohort. The purpose of these bivariate analyses is to identify factors that may explain differences in children’s care/education arrangements. The range of variables investigated is the same as for the infant cohort (reported on in Section 4). These include family demographic characteristics, indices of family finances, community characteristics, child demographic characteristics and indices of maternal adjustment, social support and parenting.

6.2 Section summary

This section provides information on relations between family, child and community characteristics and patterns of non-parental child care and early education for the LSAC children. Selected findings include:

  • On average, 95.1 per cent of the 4 to 5 year-old children participating in LSAC attended some form of centre or school-based child care or early education service, but this proportion ranged from 88.7 per cent to 98.4 per cent depending on the child’s characteristics and his or her family and community circumstances.
  • The proportion of children who attended a centre or school-based care/education service was lower: for children who were younger, Indigenous, or from a lone-parent family or a family speaking a language other than English in the home; for families with larger numbers of children living in the household, a lower weekly income, higher levels of financial stress, or living in more economically disadvantaged areas (as identified by a low SEIFA index); and for mothers who reported higher levels of psychological distress and reported poorer parenting behaviour.
  • Children of employed mothers were more likely to attend care/education arrangements for longer hours per week (for example, long day care centres or preschools plus other additional care/education arrangement).
  • Children from less economically advantaged families were more likely to attend care/education settings in the public sector that are provided for lower (or no) cost, such as pre-Year 1 and preschool programs in a school setting.
  • Children from more economically advantaged families were more likely to attend more costly care/education settings, such as a preschools not in a school setting.
  • More girls than boys were attending pre-Year 1.
  • The number of hours per week children spent in care/education arrangements was higher for children whose mothers were employed and more highly educated, and whose families had higher household incomes and fewer children.
  • Children from lone-parent families and families speaking a language other than English in the home were also more likely to receive longer hours of care/education.
  • Differences in mother-reported psychological adjustment, social support and parenting appeared to show little relation to the type of care/education arrangement or to the number of hours per week the child spent in care/education.

6.3 Overview of analytic approach

This section presents tables describing relations between children’s child care/early education arrangements and characteristics of families, children and communities, as follows:

Family demographic characteristics were mother’s age, education, employment status and the number of children in the household.

Family finances were described by weekly household income and a specific index of family financial stress.

Community characteristics were described by the SEIFA index (ABS 2001), which assesses the level of disadvantage of the community in which the family resides.

Child demographic characteristics included the age and sex of the study child and whether the study child was of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background (Indigenous status), was exposed to a language other than English in the home or was living in a lone-parent family.

Mother’s psychological adjustment, social support and parenting were indexed by measures of psychological distress, social support, parenting self-efficacy and parenting behaviour.

All measures of these constructs for the child cohort were the same as those for the infant cohort (Section 4.3), except for the composite measure of parenting behaviour, which included different age appropriate items for the hostile parenting component (for example, ‘Of all the times you talk to this child about his/her behaviour, how often is this disapproval?’) as well as items assessing consistent parenting (for example, ‘When you give this child an instruction or make a request to do something, how often do you make sure that he/she does it?’). The parenting composite for the child cohort was constructed by combining measures of parenting warmth, parenting hostility and consistent parenting, with higher scores indicating more positive parenting behaviour (that is, more warmth, less hostility, more consistency). The resulting distribution was highly skewed and could not distinguish between cases at the upper end of the scales (most parents showed positive parenting behaviours). The measure was, therefore, transformed into a dichotomous variable, with parents in the bottom 20 per cent of the distribution falling in the ‘lower’ category and the rest of the population being labelled ‘higher’.

Analysis plan. Each of the family, child and community characteristics were examined against the eight broad categories describing types of non-parental child care/early education arrangements: no centre-based care or exclusive parental care; pre-Year 1 only or with other care; preschool in a school only; preschool in a school with other care; preschool not in a school only; preschool not in a school with other care; long day care only; long day care with other care. Results are presented in a series of tables, which report figures for the number of respondents for whom data were available. Because missing data were not included in these tables, there are variations in the total sample size reported for each table. Significant differences between mean values are noted when of interest, with the criteria for significance being the non-overlap of their respective 95 per cent confidence intervals (95% CI).

Following this, analyses were repeated using a continuous measure of the amount of care received—that is, hours per week in care.

6.4 Family, child and community characteristics by type of care and early education for the child cohort

A question of policy interest in LSAC is: What factors determine which children attend non-parental child care and early education settings and the type of arrangements their parents provide? This section presents descriptive statistics looking at relations between family, child and community characteristics and the non-parental child care and early education experiences of the LSAC children.

Family demographic characteristics

Mother’s age

Children with mothers younger than 25 years were more likely to attend a pre-Year 1 program (19.9 per cent) than children with mothers aged 25 to 34 (15.6 per cent), and more likely to attend only a preschool in a school setting (18.7 per cent) than children with mothers aged 35 years and over (13.7 per cent). They were also less likely to attend a preschool not in a school setting with other care (6.9 per cent) than children with mothers older than 25 (25 to 34 years=11.6 per cent, 35 years and over=11.1 per cent) (Table 54). These results with respect to preschool attendance are consistent with younger mothers accessing care/education settings that provide shorter hours of care, as well as those that are less costly (that is, pre-Year 1 and preschool in a school setting). This may be related to the employment and economic characteristics of these younger mothers.

Table Description

Table 54: Mother’s age at time of child birth by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Mother’s age (years) %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
 
Younger than 25 6.1 19.9 18.7 11.8 13.5 6.9 14.8 8.3 100
4.5–8.2 17.2–22.9 16.1–21.8 9.6–14.4 11.0–16.4 5.2–9.0 12.2–17.8 6.6–10.5 100
49 159 149 94 107 55 118 66 797
25 to 34 4.6 15.6 16.1 11.9 16.0 11.6 15.0 9.3 100
3.9–5.4 14.4–17.0 14.8–17.6 10.8–12.9 14.6–17.5 10.4–12.9 13.7–16.3 8.2–10.4 100
146 501 517 380 513 371 479 296 3,203
35 and above 5.0 16.5 13.7 12.2 18.2 11.1 14.3 9.0 100
3.9–6.5 14.3–19.0 11.8–15.7 10.5–14.2 16.0–20.5 9.1–13.5 12.3–16.6 7.4–10.9 100
47 153 127 113 169 103 133 84 929
Total 4.9 16.5 16.1 11.9 16.0 10.7 14.8 9.1 100
4.3–5.6 15.4–17.6 15.0–17.3 11.0–12.9 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.8 13.7–16.0 8.1–10.1 100
242 813 793 588 789 529 730 446 4,928

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s education

Broadly speaking, a higher level of maternal education was associated with less likelihood of a child receiving exclusive parental care or receiving no centre or school-based care/education. The difference was greatest between university-educated mothers (1.8 per cent) and Year 10 or less educated mothers (8.7 per cent). Children of mothers with a university education were represented in higher proportion in categories associated with longer hours of care/education (such as preschool not in a school with other care (14.7 per cent) and long day care in conjunction with other care (11.0 per cent) compared to mothers with Year 10 or less education (6.6 and 6.9 per cent, respectively) (Table 55).

It is interesting to note that where differences in care/education use were found, these were with arrangements associated with longer hours of care (typically a formal care/education arrangement in combination with informal care), with more highly educated mothers using arrangements providing longer hours of care/education for their children. However, there was one care/education arrangement where the difference in use favoured children of mothers with lower levels of education. Specifically, children of mothers with less education were more likely to attend a preschool in a school setting (Year 10 or less education: 23.2 per cent; Year 11 to 12 education: 19.4 per cent) than were children of mothers with an education beyond secondary school (trade certificate or diploma: 15.1 percent; university: 11.5 per cent). This pattern of care/early education is likely due to school-based preschool programs settings (where available) being located within the public sector and provided at a very low (or free) cost to families.

Table Description

Table 55: Mother’s education by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Mother’s education %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Year 10 or less 8.7 17.6 23.3 9.9 15.9 6.6 14.3 6.9 100
7.0–10.7 15.1–20.4 17.6–23.3 7.9–12.3 13.4–18.6 5.1–8.5 12.1–16.7 5.2–8.9 100
79 159 184 90 144 60 130 62 907
Year 11 or 12 4.9 13.0 19.4 13.9 18.0 10.9 11.8 8.2 100
3.7–6.4 10.9–15.3 17.2–21.9 11.8–16.2 15.7–20.4 9.0–13.2 10.1–13.9 6.8–9.9 100
48 130 194 139 179 109 118 82 1,000
Trade certificate or diploma 5.1 16.6 15.1 11.9 15.0 10.2 16.6 9.4 100
4.2–6.2 15.0–18.5 13.7–16.7 10.5–13.5 13.3–17.0 8.8–11.7 14.8–18.5 8.0–10.9 100
93 301 274 216 272 184 300 170 1,809
University 1.8 18.3 11.5 11.8 15.9 14.7 15.0 11.0 100
1.3–2.6 16.2–20.5 10.0–13.2 10.3–13.5 14.1–17.9 12.7–16.8 13.3–17.0 9.4–12.9 100
22 219 139 141 191 176 181 133 1,202
Total 4.9 16.5 16.1 11.9 16.0 10.8 14.8 9.1 100
4.3–5.6 15.4–17.6 15.0–17.2 11.0–12.9 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.8 13.7–16.0 8.2–10.1 100
242 809 791 586 787 529 728 446 4,918

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s employment status

Attendance at a centre or school-based early childhood care/education program varied by mother’s employment status: 96.2 per cent of children whose mothers who were employed full time and 97.9 per cent of children whose mothers worked part-time) attended school, preschool or school, compared to 92.4 per cent of children of unemployed mothers. Furthermore, the employment groups differed in the types of care/education settings used. Children with full-time employed mothers (19.5 per cent) were more likely to attend a pre-Year 1 program than were children of mothers employed part-time (14.7 per cent), while children of unemployed mothers (17.2 per cent) were similar in their level of attendance at pre-Year 1 compared to both employed groups (Table 56).

When attendance at preschool (only or with additional care/education) versus long day care (only or with additional care/education) was assessed, further differences among employment groups were found. Children of mothers employed full-time were equally likely to be enrolled in preschool (38.4 per cent) or long day care settings (38.4 per cent), while children of mothers employed part-time or unemployed were much more likely to be enrolled in preschools (part-time: preschool=57.0 per cent, long day care=26.2 per cent; unemployed: preschool=58.1 per cent, long day care=17.2 per cent). This is consistent with the need of full-time employed mothers for more hours of non-parental care for their children to meet their work commitments and suggests that these hours were less available through preschool services.

Table Description

Table 56: Mother’s employment status by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Mother’s employment status %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Full-time 3.8 19.5 6.7 15.4 5.5 10.8 18.8 19.6 100
2.6–5.5 16.9–22.4 5.2–8.5 13.0–18.3 4.1–7.3 8.7–13.2 16.1–21.8 16.7–22.8 100
29 146 51 113 43 80 139 146 747
Part- time 2.1 14.7 12.3 15.9 12.0 16.8 14.6 11.6 100
1.6–2.9 13.3–16.3 11.0–13.7 14.4–17.5 10.5–13.7 15.1–18.7 13.0–16.4 10.1–13.3 100
41 289 247 313 240 328 292 226 1,976
Not working 7.6 17.2 22.4 7.4 22.8 5.5 13.7 3.5 100
6.5–8.8 15.5–19.0 20.5–24.3 6.4–8.5 21.0–24.8 4.7–6.5 12.4–15.3 2.7–4.3 100
171 382 495 160 505 119 299 75 2,205
Total 4.9 16.6 16.1 11.9 16.0 10.7 14.8 9.0 100
4.3–5.6 15.5–17.7 15.0–17.2 11.0–12.9 14.8–17.3 9.7–11.8 13.7–16.0 8.1–10.1 100
241 817 792 587 487 528 731 446 4,928

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Number of children in the household

As the number of children in the household increased, the likelihood of children being enrolled in centre or school-based care/early education settings decreased. Children from households with four or more children were much more likely to experience ‘no centre or school-based care or exclusive parental care’ (11.3 per cent) than were children from households with three or less children (2.8 per cent to 4.3 per cent) (Table 57).

For pre-Year 1, the percentage of children did not vary by number of children in the household. However, differences in attendance at other care/education settings by number of children in the household were noted. Children from larger households were more likely to attend care/education services with shorter hours of care. For example, children from households with three or more children (18.9 per cent to 19.4 per cent) were more likely to attend a preschool in a school setting only than children from households with only one child (11.2 per cent). Similarly, children from households with two or more children (range=15.6 per cent to 17.9 per cent) were more likely to attend a preschool not in a school setting only than were children from households with only one child (10.9 per cent).

Also, in accordance with the trend for children from larger households to attend early childhood services providing fewer hours of care/education per week, children from larger households were, in general, less likely to attend long day care centres (where costs are likely to be higher) than were children from smaller households.

Table Description

Table 57: Number of children in household by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Number of children %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
1 2.8 17.1 11.2 14.4 10.9 9.6 19.6 14.3 100
1.8–4.3 14.4–20.3 8.9–14.0 12.0–17.2 8.7–13.7 7.6–12.1 16.8–22.7 11.9–17.2 100
16 98 64 83 63 55 112 82 572
2 3.9 16.3 14.5 12.6 15.6 12.0 15.6 9.5 100
3.1–4.9 14.9–17.9 13.3–15.9 11.4–13.9 14.1–17.2 10.7–13.4 14.2–17.1 8.3–10.9 100
91 386 344 299 370 284 368 225 2,368
3 4.3 16.1 18.9 10.4 17.9 10.8 14.1 7.4 10
3.4–5.4 14.3–18.2 16.7–21.4 8.9–12.2 15.8–20.2 9.2–12.6 12.3–16.2 6.1–9.0 100
58 215 253 139 239 144 188 99 1,335
4 or more 11.3 17.4 19.4 10.2 17.6 7.3 10.4 6.4 100
9.2–13.8 14.5–20.6 16.4–22.9 8.3–12.4 14.6–21.1 5.6–9.5 8.2–13.2 4.9–8.3 100
80 123 137 72 125 51 74 45 707
Total 4.9 16.5 16.0 11.9 16.0 10.7 14.9 9.0 100
4.3–5.6 15.5–17.6 14.9–17.2 11.0–12.8 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.8 13.8–16.1 8.1–10.1 100
244 822 798 593 796 535 742 450 4,981

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Family finances

Weekly household income

Broadly speaking, as weekly household income increased, children were more likely to attend centre or school-based care/education settings and less likely to be in exclusive parental care or home-based care (the range decreased from 8.9 per cent to 1.4 per cent for the lowest to the highest income bracket) (Table 58). Children from households with higher incomes (>$1000 per week) were also more likely to be enrolled in care/education arrangements providing longer hours of care (for example preschool not in a school plus other care, and long day care plus other care) and less likely to be enrolled in preschool in a school only, an arrangement typically associated with fewer hours of care.

In contrast, weekly household income did not strongly differentiate children enrolled in pre-Year 1 programs, although some weak differences were noted. Children from families in the middle-income range ($1,000 to $1,499 per week) were less likely to attend a pre-Year 1 program than children from families in upper (more than $2,000 per week) or lower (less than $600 per week) income categories. The lack of a strong differentiation between lower and higher income groups may be explained by the fact that pre-Year 1 is provided by the public as well as the private sector and attendance at public sector programs is cost-free. Middle-income families were equally distributed across six categories of care/education arrangements, whereas the highest and lowest income groups were differentiated by type of care/education arrangement.

Table Description

Table 58: Weekly household income by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Weekly household income ($) %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Less than 600 8.9 19.7 16.1 11.3 15.7 6.8 14.6 6.9 100
7.2–11.0 17.0–22.7 13.6–18.9 9.4–13.6 13.3–18.5 5.4–8.5 12.4–17.0 5.4–8.8 100
80 177 144 102 141 61 131 62 897
600 to 999 6.8 17.4 20.4 10.6 14.5 9.0 14.6 6.7 100
5.5–8.3 15.5–19.6 18.2–22.8 8.9–12.5 12.6–16.8 7.5–10.9 12.768–16.8 5.3–8.4 100
78 202 236 122 168 105 169 77 1,158
1,000 to 1,499 3.3 13.6 15.2 14.0 16.3 11.5 15.6 10.5 100
2.5–4.3 11.8–15.8 13.4–17.2 12.2–16.0 14.2–18.6 9.7–13.5 13.6–18.0 8.8–12.6 100
38 157 175 161 187 132 180 121 1,150
1,500 to 1,999 2.8 14.1 14.5 14.0 14.5 14.5 13.7 11.8 100
1.9–4.2 11.6–17.1 12.1–17.4 11.8–16.5 12.2–17.1 12.3–17.1 11.5–16.2 9.8–14.2 100
22 109 112 108 112 112 106 91 770
More than 2,000 1.4 18.7 10.9 11.1 18.4 12.2 15.4 12.1 100
0.8–2.4 16.0–21.6 8.9–13.1 9.1–13.5 15.8–21.3 9.9–14.8 12.9–18.3 9.9–14.7 100
4 128 75 77 126 84 106 83 687
Total 4.9 16.6 15.9 12.2 15.7 10.6 14.8 9.3 100
4.2–5.6 15.5–17.7 14.8–17.1 11.3–13.2 14.5–17.1 9.6–11.7 13.7–16.0 8.4–10.4 100
227 772 742 569 734 493 691 434 4,662

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Financial stress

Level of family financial stress was determined by asking the primary parent whether they had experienced any of seven indices of financial hardship in the past 12 months. Children whose parents reported three or more financial stresses were more likely to be in exclusive parental care/home-based care and not attending a centre or school-based care/education program (10.2 per cent) than children whose parents reported a lower level of financial stress (none: 3.7 per cent; one to two: 4.4 per cent) (Table 59). Level of financial stress did not strongly differentiate among the types of care/education settings children attended. However, the few differences noted were consistent with the findings reported for maternal employment and weekly household income. For example, children whose parents reported three or more financial stresses were less likely to attend a preschool not in a school setting, with other care—an arrangement more commonly used by employed mothers and households with higher weekly incomes.

Table Description

Table 59: Number of financial stresses by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Number of financial stresses %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
None 3.7 16.6 15.0 11.8 17.1 12.3 14.3 9.2 100
3.0–4.5 15.1–18.2 13.7–16.3 10.7–13.1 15.7–18.7 10.9–13.8 12.9–15.9 8.0–10.5 100
99 441 397 315 456 326 381 243 2,658
1 or 2 4.4 15.6 17.6 12.2 14.9 10.0 16.1 9.2 100
3.5–5.5 13.9–17.5 15.8–19.6 10.6–13.9 13.2–16.8 8.6–11.5 14.3–18.1 7.9–10.6 100
71 254 286 198 242 162 261 149 1,623
3 or more 10.2 17.5 16.6 11.5 14.6 6.7 14.4 8.5 100
7.7–13.3 15.0–20.5 14.1–19.4 9.4–14.1 12.0–17.6 5.0–8.8 11.8–17.5 6.6–11.0 100
68 116 110 76 97 44 96 57 664
Total 4.8 16.4 16.0 11.9 16.1 10.8 14.9 9.1 100
4.2–5.5 15.4–17.5 15.0–17.2 11.0–12.9 14.9–17.4 9.8–11.8 13.8–16.1 8.2–10.1 100
237 812 793 588 795 532 738 449 4,944

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Community characteristics

SEIFA index

The SEIFA index is a general indicator of neighbourhood advantage or disadvantage based on information collected in the 2001 census. Higher scores indicate greater neighbourhood advantage. Findings in this area were limited, but consistent with other related indicators of socioeconomic status. Children whose families resided in less advantaged neighbourhoods were less likely to be attending centre or school-based care/education settings. On the other hand, children whose families resided in more advantaged communities were more likely to be attending a preschool not in a school setting (with or without other care) and less likely to be attending a preschool in a school (Table 60).

Table Description

Table 60: SEIFA index (quintiles) by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
SEIFA quintiles %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
950 and lower 8.1 19.2 15.8 11.2 15.7 7.9 14.6 7.5 100
6.5–10.1 16.5–22.2 12.4–19.8 8.6–14.4 12.3–19.8 5.8–10.7 12.1–17.5 5.7–9.8 100
89 211 173 123 173 87 160 83 1,099
960 to 980 6.0 14.8 18.1 13.2 14.0 11.1 13.4 9.6 100
4.6–7.7 12.5–17.3 14.6–22.2 10.3–16.8 10.8–17.9 8.3–14.5 11.1–16.2 7.6–11.9 100
60 148 182 132 141 111 135 96 1,005
990 to 1,010 5.8 15.6 15.4 10.8 14.1 10.8 17.3 10.3 100
4.3–7.8 13.3–18.3 11.9–19.6 8.5–13.7 11.2–17.6 8.2–14.1 14.4–20.6 8.3–12.8 100
57 154 152 107 139 107 171 102 988
1,020 to 1,060 2.0 17.3 19.1 13.1 14.7 11.0 14.3 8.7 100
1.3–2.9 14.3–20.7 15.5–23.4 10.5–16.2 11.5–18.5 8.0–14.8 10.8–18.6 6.4–11.7 100
19 171 189 129 145 109 141 86 989
1,070 and higher 2.2 15.4 11.3 11.3 22.1 13.5 15.0 9.4 100
1.3–3.5 12.8–18.3 8.7–14.5 8.8–14.4 18.7–25.9 11.0–16.5 12.4–18.0 7.7–11.3 100
19 138 102 102 199 122 135 84 900
Total 4.9 16.5 16.0 11.9 16.0 10.7 14.9 9.0 100
4.3–5.6 15.5–17.6 14.9–17.2 11.0–12.8 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.8 13.8–16.1 8.1–10.1 100
245 822 798 593 796 535 742 451 4,981

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Child demographic characteristics

Child’s age

Children not attending centre or school-based care or in exclusive parental care were, on average, younger than those attending all types of centre or school-based care/education. Differences across type of care/education were minimal, although younger children were more likely to be attending long day care centres only and older children more likely to be in a pre-Year 1 program at school (Table 61). These differences are not unexpected and likely reflect the age restrictions for pre-Year 1 and preschool as well as development of children.

Table Description

Table 61: Child’s age by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Child’s age (years) %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
4.25–4.66 8.3 1.7 15.9 10.6 18.5 11.2 21.9 12.0 100
6.9–10.0 1.1–2.6 13.9–18.1 9.2–12.3 16.2–20.9 9.5–13.2 19.4–24.6 10.2–14.0 100
96 20 182 122 212 129 251 138 1,149
4.67–4.99 4.9 11.3 17.5 13.6 17.6 11.9 14.5 8.6 100
4.1–6.0 9.9–12.8 16.1–19.1 12.4–15.0 16.1–19.2 10.7–13.2 13.2–16.0 7.6–9.8 100
131 300 466 363 468 316 387 229 2,658
5.00–5.69 1.6 42.9 12.8 9.2 9.9 7.7 8.9 7.2 100
1.0–2.5 40.1–45.7 11.1–14.7 7.6–11.0 8.1–12.0 6.4–9.3 7.3–10.8 5.7–9.1 100
18 503 150 108 116 90 104 84 1,173
Total 4.9 16.5 16.0 11.9 16.0 10.7 14.9 9.0 100
4.3–5.6 15.5–17.6 14.9–17.2 11.0–12.8 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.8 13.8–16.1 8.1–10.1 100
245 822 798 593 796 535 742 451 4,981

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Child’s sex

More girls (18.3 per cent) were attending a pre-Year 1 program than boys (14.8 per cent), which is consistent with the frequently reported finding of earlier school readiness among girls (Table 62).

Table Description

Table 62: Child’s sex by type of care arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Child’s sex %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Male 4.9 14.8 15.5 11.8 15.5 11.3 16.6 9.5 100
4.1–5.9 13.4–16.3 14.1–17.1 10.7–13.1 13.9–17.3 10.0–12.8 15.1–18.1 8.3–10.9 100
125 378 396 302 395 289 423 243 2,551
Female 4.9 18.3 16.5 12.0 16.5 10.1 13.2 8.5 100
4.1–6.0 16.9–19.8 15.1–18.0 10.9–13.2 15.1–18.1 9.0–11.3 11.8–14.7 7.5–9.7 100
120 444 401 291 401 246 320 207 2,430
Total 4.9 16.5 16.0 11.9 16.0 10.7 14.9 9.0 100
4.3–5.6 15.5–17.6 14.9–17.2 11.0–12.8 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.8 13.8–16.1 8.1–10.1 100
245 822 798 593 796 535 742 451 4,981

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Child’s Indigenous status

Indigenous children (90.1 per cent) were less likely than non-Indigenous children (95.3 per cent) to be attending a centre or school-based care arrangement and, hence, more likely to be either in exclusive parental care or attending a home-based child care program (Table 63). When Indigenous children were attending care, they were more likely to attend care settings providing shorter hours of care, that is, more likely to be enrolled in a preschool in a school setting only (Indigenous=26.0 per cent, non-Indigenous=15.6 per cent), and less likely to be attending a preschool not in a school setting with other care (Indigenous=3.5 per cent, non-Indigenous=11.0 per cent) or a long day care centre with other care (Indigenous=4.4 per cent, non-Indigenous=9.2 per cent).

Table Description

Table 63: Child’s Indigenous status by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Child’s Indigenous status %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Indigenous 9.9 17.5 26.0 12.4 13.6 3.5 12.7 4.4 100
6.0–15.7 12.5–24.0 20.1–33.0 7.8–19.4 9.4–19.2 1.6–7.7 8.4–18.9 2.4–7.9 100
19 34 51 24 26 7 25 9 194
Non-Indigenous 4.7 16.5 15.6 11.9 16.1 11.0 15.0 9.2 100
4.1–5.4 15.4–17.6 14.5–16.8 11.0–12.8 14.9–17.4 10.0–12.1 13.9–16.2 8.3–10.3 100
226 788 747 567 770 528 717 442 4,785
Total 4.9 16.5 16.0 11.9 16.0 10.8 14.9 9.1 100
4.3–5.6 15.5–17.6 14.9–17.2 11.0–12.8 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.8 13.8–16.1 8.1–10.1 100
245 822 798 591 796 535 742 451 4,979

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Language other than English spoken at home

The LSAC study child was considered to be exposed on a regular basis to a language other than English in the family if either parent (who lived in the household) indicated that a language other than English was spoken at home. The proportion of LSAC families in the 4 to 5 year-old cohort who identified themselves as being in this group was slightly higher than that reported for the infant cohort, 17.7 per cent (n=867) versus 17.0 per cent. There were 40 different home languages identified in this cohort. After English, the largest group was Arabic (n=89), followed by Cantonese (n=66), Italian (n=59), Vietnamese (n=54), Greek (n=52), Mandarin (n=51), Spanish (n=36), Filipino (n=31), Samoan (n=28), Turkish and Hindi (n=22). Other languages were spoken by 20 or fewer LSAC families.

Children from LOTE families (91.6 per cent) were less likely than children from English-only speaking families (96.0 per cent) to be attending centre or school-based care/education settings. Specifically, they were less likely to be attending preschool in school settings (with or without other care) and long day care centres with other care. In contrast, children from LOTE families (25.1 per cent) were more likely to be attending pre-Year 1 programs than were children from English-only speaking families (14.4 per cent)—perhaps because their educational focus is consistent with the strong value placed on formal education in many of the identified LOTE cultural groups (Table 64).

Table Description

Table 64: Language spoken at home by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Language spoken at home %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
English only 4.0 14.4 16.9 13.1 15.9 11.1 14.8 9.8 100
3.4–4.6 13.4–15.6 15.7–18.3 12.1–14.3 14.6–17.2 10.0–12.3 13.5–16.2 8.7–10.9 100
160 580 681 528 639 446 595 393 4,021
Other language 8.4 25.1 11.8 6.8 16.8 9.4 15.4 6.3 100
6.8–10.5 22.3–28.2 9.9–14.0 5.1–9.0 14.2–19.8 7.7–11.3 13.1–17.9 4.9–8.1 100
73 218 102 59 146 81 133 55 867
Total 4.8 16.3 16.0 12.0 16.1 10.8 14.9 9.2 100
4.2–5.4 15.3–17.5 14.9–17.2 11.1–13.0 14.8–17.4 9.8–11.9 13.8–16.1 8.2–10.2 100
233 798 783 587 785 527 728 448 4,889

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Family type

Children from lone-parent families (92.0 per cent) were less likely than children from couple families (95.7 per cent) to be attending a centre or school-based care/education service. However, when attendance at specific care/education settings was assessed, few significant differences were observed. Children from lone-parent families were less likely than children from couple families to be attending preschool programs not in a school settings (with or without other care), but the groups were not different in their attendance at any other care/education settings (Table 65).

Table Description

Table 65: Family type by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Family type %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Lone parent 8.0 18.6 13.4 13.4 12.3 8.1 14.5 11.8 100
6.3–10.1 16.2–21.4 11.2–16.0 11.1–16.0 10.1–14.8 6.4–10.2 12.2–17.3 9.6–14.3 100
59 139 99 99 91 60 108 87 743
Couple 4.3 15.8 16.6 11.6 16.7 11.2 14.9 8.7 100
3.7–5.1 14.7–17.0 15.5–17.8 10.7–12.6 15.4–18.1 10.2–12.4 13.8–16.2 7.8–9.8 100
180 656 690 483 695 467 620 361 4,151
Total 4.9 16.2 16.1 11.9 16.1 10.8 14.9 9.2 100
4.3–5.6 15.2–17.4 15.0–17.3 11.0–12.9 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.8 13.8–16.0 8.2–10.2 100
240 794 790 582 786 527 728 449 4,894

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s psychological adjustment, social support and parenting

Mother’s psychological distress

Children whose mothers reported higher levels of psychological distress (6.2 per cent) were less likely to be attending centre or school-based care/education settings than children whose mothers reported lower levels of distress (3.8 per cent). However, differences in attendance at specific care arrangements were limited to the category of preschool programs not in a school settings with other care, with children with mothers with higher psychological distress (8.2 per cent) attending these settings less often than children with mothers with lower psychological distress (11.7 per cent) (Table 66).

Table Description

Table 66: Mother’s psychological distress by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Level of psychological distress %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Low 3.8 15.3 16.8 12.6 15.8 11.7 14.7 9.3 100
3.1–4.6 14.1–16.6 15.5–18.2 11.5–13.7 14.4–17.3 10.5–13.1 13.4–16.1 8.3–10.5 100
122 496 543 405 510 378 475 301 3,230
High 6.2 19.0 15.4 11.8 15.9 8.2 15.9 7.7 100
4.7–8.2 16.6–21.6 13.2–17.8 9.9–14.0 13.5–18.6 6.5–10.2 13.5–18.5 6.2–9.7 100
56 170 138 106 142 73 142 69 897
Total 4.3 16.1 16.5 12.4 15.8 10.9 15.0 9.0 100
3.6–5.1 15.0–17.4 15.3–17.8 11.4–13.4 14.5–17.2 9.9–12.1 13.7–16.3 8.0–10.1 100
177 666 682 511 652 451 617 370 4,127

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s social support

Few differences in attendance at care/education settings were noted for children of mothers who reported receiving enough versus not enough social support. Children of mothers who did not receive enough social support (7.5 per cent) were less likely than children of mothers who receive enough support (12.3 per cent) to attend a preschool not in a school setting with other care, and more likely (18.8 per cent) than children of mothers who receive enough support (14.1 per cent) to attend long day care only settings (Table 67).

Table Description

Table 67: Mother’s social support by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Social support %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Gets enough support 4.1 16.4 15.7 12.7 15.9 12.3 14.1 8.9 100
3.4–5.0 15.0–17.9 14.4–17.1 11.5–14.0 14.5–17.4 11.0–13.8 12.7–15.5 7.8–10.1 100
119 474 454 366 459 356 406 257 2,890
Does not get enough support 4.4 14.7 16.5 12.3 15.8 7.5 18.8 9.9 100
3.3–5.9 12.4–17.3 14.4–18.9 10.5–14.4 13.6–18.3 6.0–9.4 16.4–21.4 8.1–12.1 100
41 136 153 114 147 70 174 91 925
Total 4.2 16.0 15.9 12.6 15.9 11.2 15.2 9.1 100
3.5–5.0 14.8–17.3 14.7–17.1 11.5–13.7 14.5–17.3 10.1–12.4 14.0–16.5 8.1–10.3 100
160 610 606 480 605 426 579 348 3,815

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s parenting self-efficacy

Differences in attendance at care/education settings were limited to children of parents with lower self-efficacy (20.8 per cent) being more likely to attend a preschool in a school setting with other care than children of parents with higher self-efficacy (11.6 per cent) (Table 68).

Table Description

Table 68: Mother’s parenting self-efficacy by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Level of parenting self-efficacy %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Higher 4.9 16.5 16.2 11.6 16.1 10.9 14.7 9.0 100
4.3–5.6 15.4–17.6 15.1–17.4 10.7–12.6 14.9–17.5 9.9–12.0 13.6–15.9 8.1–10.1 100
232 779 767 549 763 513 694 427 4,725
Lower 3.3 15.5 13.8 20.8 12.5 8.5 15.2 10.4 100
1.5–7.4 10.6–22.1 9.5–19.6 15.2–27.9 8.2–18.4 5.1–13.8 10.6–21.5 6.7–15.8 100
5 25 22 33 20 13 24 17 159
Total 4.9 16.5 16.2 11.9 16.0 10.8 14.7 9.1 100
4.2–5.6 15.4–17.6 15.0–17.3 11.0–12.9 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.9 13.6–15.9 8.2–10.1 100
237 805 789 582 782 527 718 444 4,884

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Mother’s parenting behaviour

Mothers with less positive parenting behaviour were more likely to have children in exclusive parental care or in home-based care arrangements (7.7 per cent) than mothers with more positive parenting behaviour (4.1 per cent). No other differences in attendance at different types of care/education arrangements were found (Table 69).

Table Description

Table 69: Mother’s parenting behaviour by type of care/education arrangement
  Care/education arrangement
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care  
Not in centre or school-based care/education Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Preschool only With other care/education Long day care only With other care/education Total
Positive parenting behaviour %
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Higher 4.1 16.3 16.4 11.7 15.9 11.4 14.7 9.5 100
3.5–4.8 15.1–17.5 15.1–17.7 10.8–12.8 14.6–17.3 10.3–12.6 13.5–16.0 8.5–10.6 100
159 630 633 453 615 439 569 367 3,865
Lower 7.7 16.9 15.3 12.6 16.5 8.7 14.8 7.5 100
6.3–9.5 14.6–19.4 13.1–17.7 10.7–14.8 14.3–19.0 7.1–10.5 12.8–17.2 6.1–9.2 100
78 170 154 127 167 87 150 76 1,010
Total 4.9 16.4 16.2 11.9 16.0 10.8 14.7 9.1 100
4.2–5.6 15.4–17.6 15.0–17.3 11.0–12.9 14.8–17.3 9.8–11.9 13.6–15.9 8.2–10.1 100
237 801 787 581 781 526 719 443 4,874

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

[ top ]

6.5 Family, child and community characteristics by amount of care and early education for the child cohort

This section presents descriptive statistics looking at the relations between family, child and community characteristics and the amount of non-parental child care and early education experienced by the LSAC children. Amount of care/education for each child was indexed by the total number of hours per week children regularly spent in their child care/education arrangements. Children who received exclusive parental care only (that is, zero hours in non-parental care) were excluded from the following analyses.

Family demographic characteristics

Mother’s age

The number of hours per week children spent in care/education arrangements did not differ significantly across the three maternal age groups (Table 70).

Table Description

Table 70: Mother’s age at child’s birth by hours in care/education
  Mother’s age (years)
Younger than 25 25 to 34 35 and above
Mean hours per week of care/education 22.5 21.9 22.6
95% CI 21.7–23.4 21.4–22.3 21.8–23.4
n 748 3,068 884

Mother’s education

Children with mothers who had more than a Year 12 education (trade certificate, diploma or university) spent, on average, longer hours in child care/education than children of mothers with a Year 10 education or less (Table 71).

Table Description

Table 71: Mother’s education by hours in care/education
  Mother’s education
Year 10 or less Year 11 or 12 Trade certificate or diploma University
Mean hours per week of care/education 20.7 21.3 22.1 23.7
95% CI 19.9–21.4 20.7–22.0 21.5–22.7 23.2–24.3
n 831 956 1,731 1,172

Mother’s employment status

There was a strong, statistically significant trend indicating that as mothers increased their hours of work (that is, from part-time to full-time), the more hours a week her child spent in non-parental child care/education arrangements (Table 72).

Table Description

Table 72: Mother’s employment status by hours in care/education
  Mother’s employment status
Full-time Part-time Not working
Mean hours per week of care/education 33.0 22.7 18.1
95% CI 32.1–33.8 22.2–23.1 17.6–18.5
n 691 1,906 2,103

Number of children in the household

The number of siblings or other children in the household where the study child lived was an important factor in the amount of non-parental care/education received. Weekly hours of care/education decreased as the number of siblings/other children increased. The mean hours of care/education per week for only children (26.2 hours) or for children with one sibling/other child in the household (22.6 hours) was significantly longer than for children with either three (20.6 hours) or four or more (19.7 hours) siblings or other children in the household (Table 73).

Table Description

Table 73: Number of children in household by hours in care/education
  Number of children
1 2 3 4 or more
Mean hours per week of care/education 26.2 22.6 20.6 19.7
95% CI 25.1–27.2 22.2–23.1 20.1–21.2 18.9–20.6
n 548 2,283 1,287 629

Family finances

Weekly household income

As weekly household income increased, so did hours of non-parental child care/education. Children from families in the two lowest income categories spent significantly fewer hours in care/education than did children from families in the two highest income categories (Table 74).

Table Description

Table 74: Weekly household income by hours in care/education
  Weekly household income ($)
Less than 600 600–999 1000–1,499 1,500–1,999 More than 2,000
Mean hours per week of care/education 21.3 20.8 21.9 23.2 25.0
95% CI 20.5–22.1 20.2–21.5 21.3–22.6 22.4–24.1 24.1–25.9
n 818 1,088 1,113 748 676

Financial stress

Financial stress was not related to the mean number of hours children spent in non-parental child care/education each week (Table 75).

Table Description

Table 75: Number of financial stresses by hours in care/education
  Number of financial stresses
None 1 or 2 3 or more
Mean hours per week of care/education 22.6 21.6 21.3
95% CI 22.2–23.0 20.9–22.2 20.5–22.2
n 2,564 1,553 598

Community characteristics

SEIFA index

The correlation between the community rating of disadvantage (SEIFA index) and the hours a child spent in care/education was examined. There was no significant correlation between the two measures, r=0.002, p=not significant.

Child demographic characteristics

Child’s age

There was a significant but modest correlation between child’s age and hours in care/education, indicating that older children experienced longer hours, r=0.21, p<0.001. This may be partly due to the older LSAC children who had started full-time school.

Child’s sex

There was no difference between male and female children in the average number of hours per week they spent in care/education (Table 76).

Table Description

Table 76: Child’s sex by hours in care/education
  Child’s sex
Male Female
Mean hours per week of care/education 22.0 22.3
95% CI 21.5–22.5 21.8–22.7
n 2,426 2,321

Child’s Indigenous status

There was no difference in the number of hours children spent in care/education each week based on Indigenous status (Table 77).

Table Description

Table 77: Child’s Indigenous status by hours in care/education
  Child’s Indigenous status
Indigenous Non-Indigenous
Mean hours per week of care/education 22.5 22.1
95% CI 20.8–24.3 21.7–22.5
n 177 4,568

Language other than English spoken at home

Children who lived in a household in which a language other than English was spoken attended longer hours of care/education than children in English-only speaking homes (Table 78). This is likely due to the high proportion attending pre-Year 1.

Table Description

Table 78: Language spoken at home by hours in care/education
  Language spoken
English only Other language
Mean hours per week of care/education 21.8 23.8
95% CI 21.4–22.2 23.0–24.7
n 3,873 794

Family type

Children from lone-parent families spent on average longer hours in care/education than children from couple families (Table 79).

Table Description

Table 79: Family type by hours in care/education
  Family type
Lone parent Couple
Mean hours per week of care/education 24.3 21.7
95% CI 23.5–25.2 21.3–22.0
n 680 3,985

Mother’s psychological adjustment, social support and parenting

Mother’s psychological distress

Children of mothers with higher levels of psychological distress did not differ in the number of hours spent in care/education from children of mothers with lower levels of psychological distress (Table 80).

Table Description

Table 80: Mother’s psychological distress by hours in care/education
  Level of psychological distress
Low High
Mean hours per week of care/education 21.8 22.1
95% CI 21.4–22.3 21.3–22.9
n 3,118 842

Mother’s social support

Children of mothers who reported receiving enough support did not differ in the number of hours they spent in care from children of mothers not receiving enough support (Table 81).

Table Description

Table 81: Mother’s social support by hours in care/education
  Social support
Gets enough support Does not get enough support
Mean hours per week of care/education 22.1 21.4
95% CI 21.7–22.6 20.6–22.2
n 2,780 887

Mother’s parenting self-efficacy

Children of mothers with lower parenting self-efficacy did not differ from children of mothers with higher parenting self-efficacy in terms of the hours they spent in care (Table 82).

Table Description

Table 82: Mother’s parenting self-efficacy by hours in care/education
  Level of parenting self-efficacy
Higher Lower
Mean hours per week of care/education 23.0 24.1
95% CI 21.7–22.4 22.1–26.1
n 4,504 154

Mother’s parenting behaviour

Children of mothers with less positive parenting behaviour (that is, less warmth and more hostility) did not differ from children of mothers with more positive parenting behaviour in terms of the hours they spent in care/education (Table 83).

Table Description

Table 83: Mother’s parenting behaviour by hours in care/education
  Positive parenting behaviour
Higher Lower
Mean hours per week of care/education 22.1 22.1
95% CI 21.7–22.5 21.4–22.8
n 4,504 154

6.6 Discussion

Most of the 4 to 5 year-old LSAC children (95.1 per cent) were attending some form of centre or school-based early childhood program, but the proportion varied (from 88.7 per cent to 99.4 per cent attendance) depending on the child’s characteristics and his or her family and community circumstances. There were clear characteristics differentiating the group of children in exclusive parental care or attending family-based child care services. Mothers of children not attending a centre or school-based care/education program were less well educated and more likely to be unemployed, have a lower weekly income, have more financial stress, have larger numbers of children living in the household and reside in less advantaged neighbourhoods. Mothers of children not attending centre or school-based care/education also reported higher levels of psychological distress and poorer parenting behaviour. In addition, children not attending a centre or school-based care/education setting were more likely to be younger or from a lone-parent family.

Factors related to mothers’ employment and family economic advantage appeared to differentiate the types of care/education settings children attended, specifically in relation to settings providing longer or shorter hours of care/education. Children attending ‘preschool only’ had the shortest hours each week, while those attending long day care centres with or without other care arrangements, or preschools with other care arrangements, received much longer hours. Children attending arrangements that provided longer hours were more likely to have mothers who were more highly educated or worked full time or part time, and to come from families with higher weekly household incomes, fewer indices of financial stress and fewer children. In contrast, children from families with characteristics associated with less economic advantage were more likely to attend preschool (only), particularly preschools located in a school. These settings not only provided minimal hours per week (less than 14), but are often provided free of cost or at most a minimum cost through state/territory government and Catholic schools. Furthermore, children’s weekly hours of attending care/education settings per week increased as mother’s level of education and hours of work and family income increased, and as the number of children in the household decreased. Hours were also higher in lone-parent versus couple families.

Child characteristics were also linked to attendance at some care/education settings. More girls than boys were attending pre-Year 1 programs, which is likely linked to the earlier maturity in girls of behaviours that enable them to adapt to these more structured, academically oriented educational settings. Older children (5.0 years and over) were more likely to be attending pre-Year 1; whereas the younger age group (4.3 to 4.7 years) had the highest proportion of children not attending a centre or school-based care/education settings.

Cultural characteristics were also associated with whether children attended centre or school-based care/education settings. Indigenous children were less likely than non-Indigenous children to attend centre or school-based child care or early education settings, as were children from LOTE families compared with English-only speaking families. It is important to note, however, that these differences in attendance were only modest, since the vast majority of Indigenous (90.2 per cent) children and children from LOTE families (91.6 per cent) attended some kind of centre or school-based care/education. When children from LOTE families attended these child care/education settings, they were more likely to spend longer hours there.

Finally, differences in mother-reported psychological adjustment, social support and parenting behaviour appeared to show little relation to the use of different types of care/education settings. Section 8 reports on whether these factors are important in predicting developmental outcomes for the LSAC children in the context of their child care and early education experiences.

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7. Contexts of care and early education

7.1 Introduction

With children and infants spending regular periods of time each week in child care and early education settings, it is critical that the nature and quality of these settings are understood. Australia has a multi-layered, complex system for providing, funding and regulating child care and early education.

Formal infant child care (long day care centres and family day care homes) is subject to state and territory regulatory frameworks and Australian Government quality assurance requirements linked to cost of care subsidies. In this way, governments ensure that minimum standards for staff training, adult-to-child ratios and developmentally appropriate curriculum are identified and enforced. Informal child care (home-based care by relatives or non-relatives) is not subject to scrutiny by the Australian Government or most states and territories. Thus, the quality of informal care can vary more than the quality of formal care.

For 4 to 5 year olds, formal early education programs in long day care centres, preschools and school settings are monitored by state and territory education or community/human services departments. These departments determine funding and regulatory standards for teacher/carer qualifications, staff-to-child ratios, group size and curriculum. Recent reviews have noted marked differences in program provision, funding and regulations for 4 to 5 year olds across the states and territories (Press 2006; Tayler et al. 2006).

Regulatory frameworks set minimum requirements for staffing. Some services choose to work to minimum requirements; others choose to operate above these requirements; and some seek exemptions from requirements when qualified staff are not available. For this reason, and in order to assess these and other differences, LSAC collected information about the nature and quality of the infants’ or children’s child care/early education from the setting they were attending at the time of interview.

Quality is conceptualised in the literature as encompassing the features of children’s experiences that are beneficial to their wellbeing, learning and development. Broadly, these features are defined as structural (aspects partially governed by regulations) and process (recurring patterns and interactions occurring between children, staff and parents). Structural features of good quality provide the underlying conditions that support quality processes; for example, carers’ and teachers’ general educational achievement and specific preparation in early childhood education that predict the richness of language and cognitive experiences, and the extent to which interactions with children are responsive, sensitive and positive (Howes, Phillipsen & Peisner-Feinberg 2000; Whitebook, Howes & Phillips 1989). Process components of good quality include positive care giving behaviour and interactions between carers/teachers and children, as well as the organisational features of the environment that affect staff stability. For example, job satisfaction is predictive of job commitment and the intention to remain within a position, which in turn affects continuity of care for children.

Ideally, quality in child care/early education programs is evaluated by observing the environment, interviewing staff and reviewing records of children’s interactions with staff, peers and the activities and materials provided for play and learning. Logistically, however, the size and diverse locations of the LSAC study were not able to support direct observation within programs; therefore, self-report questionnaires for carers and teachers were derived from observational and other measures of quality. Questionnaire information was collected at the level of the room or group where the LSAC infant/child spent most time, and provided by the teacher/carer who had primary responsibility for the program that the child attends (for the 4 to 5 year-old cohort) and by the person who was the main carer of the child (for the infant cohort). Four categories of information were included, each of which had been identified in previous research as indicators of quality in child care/early education. The four categories were:

  1. structural features (numbers of children and adults, and staff characteristics such as age, experience and qualifications)
  2. practice features (adult–child interaction and involvement, and approaches to learning)
  3. provisions and resources (availability of space, materials and equipment to support children’s play, development and learning)
  4. organisational features (supportive work environment for staff).

These four categories of quality were collected across all formal settings. For home-based informal care, items not relevant to these settings were excluded from the questionnaire.

This section addresses questions about the context of the LSAC infant’s or child’s main care/early education setting. It describes key indicators of quality in children’s care/early education programs. Where appropriate, comparisons of the nature and quality of these programs are made across the types of care/early education settings defined in Sections 3 and 5.

7.2 Section summary

This section presents descriptive information provided by the LSAC child’s regular carer or teacher. The findings that are highlighted summarise key results for each cohort (infant and 4 to 5 year-old) and illustrate significant differences in carer/teacher demographics, care giving practices, the programs provided, and the organisational features of the care and early education settings the child attended. Although these data are limited to infants and children whose carers/teachers returned the mail-out questionnaire (infants: 530 carers; 4 to 5 year olds: 3,242 teachers), they are representative of the wider sample of infants and children attending care/education settings at the time of the LSAC interview (Section 2). However, it is not possible to establish whether the carers and teachers themselves are representative of the wider staffing profile of long day care centres, family day care, preschools or schools, or whether the settings they worked in are representative of the wider population of schools, centres, preschools and so on.

  • On average, for infant and child cohorts, carers and teachers who worked in long day care centres were younger and had fewer years experience working in care/early education settings than carers in home-based child care (family day carers, relatives and non-relatives) and teachers in schools and preschools.
  • University-qualified staff who worked in long day care centres were less likely to be caring for infants (22.1 per cent) than for 4 to 5 year olds (42.7 per cent). The proportion of university-qualified staff was somewhat higher for teachers of 4 to 5 year olds in preschools not in a school setting (56.8 per cent) and highest in school settings (77.5 per cent in pre-Year 1 classes; 73.9 per cent in school-based preschools).
  • For most infant long day care settings, ratios of adults-to-children achieved the minimum legislated requirement of 1:4 or 1:5, but ratios of qualified staff-to-children were more variable, achieving 1:<4 at best and 1:>10 at worst.
  • Most infants (62.2 per cent) were cared for in groups of six to 10 children; 32.8 per cent in groups of more than 10; and 5.0 per cent in groups of five children or less.
  • Positive practices in infant child care were rated at a similar, moderate-to-high level across the different types of care, although time spent in active outdoor play was significantly lower in informal care provided by relatives and non-relatives than in formal care.
  • Provisions for infant play and learning were generally less available in informal settings than in long day care centres and family day care homes.
  • Practices in programs for 4 to 5 year olds were markedly different for children in pre-Year 1 classes compared to children attending preschool and long day care centres. In pre-Year 1, children spent more time in teacher-directed activities and less time in teacher-supported individual activities and child-initiated activities. Time spent in child-initiated activities was highest for children attending preschools not in a school setting.
  • On average, teachers in programs for 4 to 5 year olds recorded good to high availability of space and materials to support children’s play and independent learning, but ratings were consistently lower for pre-Year 1 classrooms compared to preschool and long day care settings. Long day care centres received the highest ratings for space, and preschools not in a school setting received the highest ratings for materials/resources.
  • In general, and for both infant and child cohorts, carers and teachers in formal services felt well supported in the workplace. Small but statistically significant differences were noted across programs: the lowest levels were reported by teachers in pre-Year 1 classrooms and the highest levels by teachers in preschool programs not in a school setting.

7.3 Overview of analytic approach

Respondents

The context of infant and 4 to 5 year-old child care and early education was assessed by way of a mail-out questionnaire. For the infant cohort, questionnaires were sent to the care setting that was attended for the most hours per week (minimum of eight hours/week), to be completed by a nominated care giver/teacher. For the infant cohort, the care giver in home-based care (family day care and informal care by relatives or non-relatives) was ‘the person who provides regular care for the child’. For centre-based day care, this was ‘the person who is the main carer of the child’. For the child cohort, questionnaires were sent to the school, preschool or long day care centre that was attended for the most hours per week (no minimum hours/week). The respondent was ‘the person who has primary responsibility for the planning and delivery of the group program in which this child participates’; for example, ‘a teacher, group leader, care giver or child care worker in long day care or a teacher of a preschool, kindergarten or pre-Year 1 school program.’

Measures

Two questionnaires were developed for the infant cohort: one for carers in home-based settings (family day carers and relatives or non-relatives) and one for carers/teachers in long day care centres. The four levels of information identified above were included in questionnaires sent to formal services (long day care centres and family day care homes). Informal carers (relatives and non-relatives) were asked to complete only the first two levels (that is, structural features and practice features). The same questionnaire, covering the four levels of information, was used for all settings for the 4 to 5 year-old cohort, including long day care centres, preschools and schools.

Level 1: Structural features of the program—the demographic characteristics of staff, including age, years of experience, level of educational achievement or qualification, field of study and staff-to-child ratios.

Level 2: Practice features of the program—age-appropriate criteria. For the infant cohort, this related to carer–child interaction in play and routine care giving tasks. For the 4 to 5 year-old cohort, this was described by different approaches to learning that typify early childhood programs.

Carer–child interaction in infant child care was measured by an estimate of the amount of time the care giver typically spent with the LSAC child or groups of children in nine activities. Each activity was rated on a four-point Likert scale, with scale points described as 1=not at all, 2=somewhat, 3=quite a lot and 4=very much. Items were the same for all care settings. Four items described direct teaching or interaction in learning experiences (for example, sitting and playing; singing, telling stories, reading books; active outdoor play; and taking part in pretend play). Two items described direct teaching or interaction in routine care giving (for example, giving individual attention in routine care; teaching good health practices). Two items described support and supervisory tasks related to teaching/interaction (for example, organising space, equipment/toys, food/drink; watching or supervising children’s play). One item described difficult interaction (for example, managing problem behaviour).

Approaches to learning in early education programs was measured by an estimate of how much time in a typical day was spent by the LSAC child’s group or program in teacher-directed whole-group activities, teacher-supported small group activities, teacher-supported individual activities and child-initiated activities. Each of these was rated on a four-point Likert scale, with scale points defined as 1=never, 2=occasionally, 3=often and 4=very often.

Level 3: Provisions and resources for play and learning—formal care and early education settings only. Items differed for each age group, and within infant care, for the different settings of family day care and long day care centres.

Provision and resources for play and learning in infant care was described by the availability of materials for play and learning, in five aspects of the environment:

  • books and materials to stimulate language development
  • materials for fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination such as posting boxes, nesting cups, pop-up toys or puzzles
  • art activities and creative materials such as crayons and play doh
  • pretend play materials such as dolls, prams, cars and dress-ups
  • equipment or space for active play such as balls and ride-on or push-along toys.

In long day care centres, provision of soft areas such as cushions and cosy corners for quiet play was included. In family day care homes, carers were asked how often they set up areas specifically for one type of play. Each item was rated on a five-point Likert scale, with scale points defined as 0=not at all, 1=occasionally, 2=for short periods each day, 3=for about half the day and 4=all day.

Provision and resources for play and learning in early education was described by two items for assessing space (for independent learning areas and for quiet time/rest) and five items for assessing resources (to develop activities responding to children’s interests and to cover specific aspects of the program). Specific areas assessed were: a range of art and writing materials; a variety of books for independent access to stimulate interest in reading; a range of materials to support fine motor and problem-solving skill development such as puzzles, blocks and construction materials; and a range of equipment to support gross motor skill development such as climbing frames, materials for obstacle courses, balls and tricycles. Teachers were asked to indicate how much they agreed/disagreed with seven statements describing the availability of space and educational resources on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree.

Level 4: Organisational features of the program—the level at which teachers and carers in formal care/early education settings rated the support they experienced at work and the effectiveness of management practices for staff.

Supportive staff work environment was assessed by five statements describing aspects of the workplace, which were adapted for centre and school-based settings and home-based settings as follows:

  • staff/I can rely on colleagues for support and assistance when needed
  • staff/I have a clear understanding of their/my roles and responsibilities
  • staff are/I am able to contribute to decision-making about policies and practices in the centre/family day care scheme
  • staff/care providers go about their work with enthusiasm
  • my personal philosophy and goals are in agreement with those of the centre/school/family day care scheme.

An additional item was included for centre and school-based settings:

  • the centre/school environment provides a positive working environment for staff.

Staff were asked to indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with these statements on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree.

Analyses

Information is presented for the different types of child care/early education settings used by the LSAC infants and 4 to 5 year olds. Where appropriate, analyses test statistical differences in the reported and rated indicators of quality across setting types. Significant differences between mean values are noted when of interest, with the criteria for significance being the non-overlap of their respective 95 per cent confidence intervals (95% CI).

7.4 Contexts of care for the infant cohort

Respondents

Information on the context of infant care is based on 530 mail-out questionnaires returned by the infants’ carers/teachers, which represented 44.6 per cent of the possible sample of 1,188. The distribution of returned questionnaires by type of care setting is in Table 84. The rate of return was similar for long day care and family day care settings (50.4 per cent and 49.0 per cent, respectively) and at a similar level for home-based relatives (45.2 per cent). The lowest rate of return was from informal non-relatives (17.5 per cent), with only 30 questionnaires returned. Data from informal non-relatives, such as nannies, are included in the following analyses, but any comparisons are treated with caution.

Table Description

Table 84: Carers who returned questionnaire by type of main care
  Carers who returned questionnaire by main care arrangement
Long day care Family day care Informal—relative Informal—non-relative Total
Overall % 39.7 14.0 42.3 4.0 100
Returned n 211 67 222 30 530
Possible n 419 151 498 120 1,188
% returned 50.4 49.0 45.2 17.5 44.6

Carer demographic characteristics

Carer’s age

Age of the carer/teacher and experience with children are closely related. All respondents were asked their age. Carers/teachers working in formal settings were asked to estimate the number of years they had worked in child care settings and in their current position. Age and experience with children were strongly correlated (r=0.62, p<0.001). The information from carers showed a wide variation in ages across all types of care, but some patterns emerged for different care types. On average, carers in long day care centres were younger (mean age=34.0 years) and carers who were relatives were older (mean age=55.8 years). This is likely due to the large proportion of grandparents (more than 92 per cent) in the informal relative category.

Table Description

Table 85: Age of carer/teacher by type of main care
Age of carer/teacher (years) Age of carer/teacher by main care arrangement
Long day care Family day care Informal—relative Informal—non-relative
Mean 34.0 41.9 55.8 40.0
95% CI 32.4–34.5 39.3–44.5 54.4–57.1 36.3–43.3
Median 31 43 57 40
Range 18–68 21–66 19–78 24–72

Carer’s education

Regulations for long day care centres require a proportion of staff to have qualifications in early childhood, either at diploma or degree level. Family day care homes and informal care do not have this requirement.

Results for long day care centres showed that the majority of the infants’ main care givers were qualified, either at the certificate or diploma level (76.2 per cent) or degree level (22.1 per cent). A much lower number of home-based carers had completed university (Bachelor degree or above), or post-secondary certificate or diploma qualifications. Just over one-half of family day carers (54.9 per cent) and one-quarter of relatives (26.6 per cent) had a certificate or diploma. Relatives were the least well-educated group, with nearly half (48.8 per cent) having only a Year 10 or less level of schooling. Non-relatives were more likely to have completed Year 12 or a post-secondary diploma, but the small number of respondents in this category precludes any reliable conclusions about this group.

Table Description

Table 86: Education of carer/teacher by type of main care
Education level of carer/teacher Education of carer/teacher by main care arrangement
Long day care Family day care Informal—relative Informal—non-relative Total
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Year 10 or less 0.5 29.6 48.8 22.5 24.8
0.1–3.0 19.9–41.5 42.1–55.5 12.0–38.2 21.3–28.7
1 19 92 6 119
Year 11 or 12 1.2 12.9 16.3 19.6 9.8
0.4–3.6 7.2–22.1 12.3–21.2 8.8–38.1 7.8–12.2
2 8 31 6 47
Certificate or diploma 76.2 54.9 26.6 45.1 51.9
68.8–82.3 43.2–66.0 20.9–33.3 31.5–59.5 47.2–56.5
150 35 50 13 248
University 22.1 2.6 8.3 12.8 13.5
16.3–29.1 0.7–8.9 5.3–12.7 4.7–30.2 10.5–17.1
43 2 16 4 64
Total 100 100 100 100 100
100 100 100 100 100
197 64 189 28 478

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Group demographic characteristics

Group size

Carers were asked to estimate the average number of children in the group that the LSAC infant attended. Response options were: 1 (only the study child), 1 to 5, 6 to 10, 11 to 20, 21 to 30, and 31 or more. For informal home-based care settings, 62.3 per cent cared for the study child alone and 37.4 per cent had a group size of 1 to 5. The majority of family day carers (78.0 per cent) had small groups of between 1 to 5 children. As expected, group size was more variable in centre-based care settings: only 5.0 per cent had 1 to 5 children in the group; 62.2 per cent had 6 to 10 children; and 32.8 per cent had 11 or more children in the group the LSAC infant attended.

Adult-to-child ratios

At the time of data collection most state/territory regulations specified a minimum requirement of one staff member to every five children in care for infants and toddlers from birth to 2 years (note that Western Australia and Queensland required a 1:4 ratio). More recently New South Wales has passed legislation to adopt a 1:4 ratio for under 2 year olds and Victoria is considering a 1:4 ratio for children under 3 years. Professional organisations (for example, Early Childhood Australia and the US National Association for the Education of Young Children) recommend a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio. A national workshop of experts hosted by the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia—Childcare: a better policy framework for Australia—recommended ‘staff/child ratios of at least one adult to three children for infants ’ and ‘at least one adult to four children for 1 to 2 year olds’ —Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) 2006, p. 3.

Information on adult-to-child ratios was recorded for the LSAC long day care centres only. Ratios were calculated from figures for the average number of children, number of paid adults and number of qualified staff typically in the group that the study child attended (including staff with certificates, diplomas or above).

The results in Table 87 show one-quarter of centres operated at better than regulatory requirements (less than four children per staff member), one-half achieved a 1:4 ratio, and one-quarter were staffed at minimum levels (more than four children per adult). However, for qualified staff-to-child ratios, only 40.7 per cent of centres achieved the level recommended by professional organisations (less than or equal to four children per qualified adult). The remaining 59.3 per cent operated with ratios ranging from more than four to more than 10 children per qualified adult (Table 88).

Table Description

Table 87: Paid adult to children ratio (centre based care only)
  Number of paid adults to children ratio
1:1–3.9 1:4 1:>4 Total
% 24.5 51.3 24.2 100
95% CI 19.4–30.5 44.7–57.7 19.1–30.1 100
n 55 114 54 222

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals.

Table Description

Table 88: Qualified staff to children ratio (centre-based care only)
  Number of qualified staff to children ratio
1:1–3.9 1:4 1:4.1–10 1:>10 Total
% 10.2 30.5 47.5 11.8 100
95% CI 6.9–14.8 25.1–36.5 41.4– 41.4–53.6 8.4–16.4 100
n 22 67 67 26 26

Program characteristics

Carer–child interaction

Carers’ estimates of how much of their usual daily work was described by direct involvement in teaching/interaction, supportive organisational/supervisory tasks and managing problems are in Table 89. The range of scores was from 1=not at all to 4=very much. The scores that differed across care type are identified in bold.

Table Description

Table 89: Mean ratings for care giving activities by main care type
Care giving activity Main care arrangement
Long day care Family day care Informal—relative Informal—non-relative p<0.05
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
 
Sitting and playing 3.1 3.2 3.2 3.4 No
3.0–3.2 3.0–3.3 3.1–3.3 3.2–3.7
Singing, telling stories, reading books 2.9 3.0 2.9 3.2 No
2.9–3.0 2.9–3.1 2.8–3.0 2.9–3.5
Managing problem behaviour 2.4 2.3 1.6 1.8 Yes
2.3–2.6 2.1–2.6 1.5–1.8 1.5–2.0
Routine care 3.4 3.5 3.3 3.3 No
3.3–3.5 3.3–3.6 3.2–3.4 3.0–3.5
Organising space, equipment and so on 2.9 3.1 3.0 3.1 No
2.8–3.0 2.9–3.2 2.8–3.1 2.8–3.3
Teaching good health 2.8 3.3 2.7 2.8 Yes
2.7–2.9 3.1–3.5 2.5–2.8 2.4–3.1
Active outdoor play 2.8 3.1 2.3 2.6 Yes
2.7–2.9 2.9–3.3 2.2–2.5 2.3–2.9
Watching/supervising 3.6 3.8 3.3 3.5 Yes
3.5–3.6 3.7–3.9 3.2–3.4 3.3–3.7
Pretend play 2.8 2.8 2.6 2.5 No
2.7–2.9 2.6–3.0 2.5–2.8 2.1–2.9

Results showed that:

  • Direct involvement with infants in play, reading, singing, routine care giving and pretend play was similar across the different care types.
  • Time spent in organising space and equipment was also similar for all carers, regardless of the type of care.
  • Carers/teachers in formal settings spent more time managing problem behaviours than carers in informal settings. This is likely due to differences in group size. Long day care centres and family day care homes have larger numbers of children. In informal settings, single children or small groups of children were more common.
  • Family day carers reported higher amounts of time spent teaching good health practices than any other care type.
  • Carers/teachers in formal settings reported spending more time in active, outdoor play than those in informal settings. This is likely due to the requirement for formal care settings, whether home or centre-based, to provide equipment and space for gross motor play. The lower rate for the informal relatives group may also reflect the age difference in this type of setting. Older carers, such as grandparents, may prefer to spend less of the day in active forms of play.
  • Family day carers reported spending more time supervising than those in informal settings.

Provision and resources for play and learning

All respondents, including carers/teachers in long day care centres, family day care providers and informal carers (relatives and non-relatives), were asked to rate the availability of resources for children’s play in the care environment on a five-point scale ranging from 0 to 4, where 0=not at all and 4=all day. Although the four care contexts are substantially different, play provisions for the children would be expected to cover similar areas of interest (motor skills, language, creativity and pretend). Setting-specific provisions are also identified: soft areas in centre care, and setting up for specific types of play in home care. Mean scores are in Table 90.

Table Description

Table 90: Mean values of availability of resources by main care type
Environment Main care arrangement
Long day care Family day care Informal—relative Informal—non-relative
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
Language 3.8 3.7 3.1 3.4
3.8–3.9 3.5–3.8 2.9–3.4 3.0–3.7
Fine motor 3.8 3.6 3.5 3.7
3.7–3.9 3.5–3.8 3.2–3.7 3.5–3.9
Creative 2.4 2.9 2.7 2.5
2.3–2.5 2.6–3.1 2.3–3.0 2.2–2.8
Pretend 3.4 3.7 3.2 3.8
3.3–3.6 3.5–3.9 2.9–3.5 3.5–4.0
Open space for active play—long day care 3.5
3.4–3.6
Active play—home care 3.5 3.7 3.8
3.3–3.7 3.5–3.8 3.6–4.0
Soft area—long day care 3.8
3.8–3.9
Space set up for one type of play—home care 3.7 2.8 3.0
3.4–3.9 2.5–3.2 2.5–3.4

Results showed that the type of care setting impacted on four of the six areas of providing for children’s play and development. In each area, carers in formal care settings (long day care and/or family day care) rated their play provisions more highly than informal home-based care providers.

  • Child care centre staff and family day carers reported having materials to stimulate language development available for longer each day than informal relative carers.
  • On average, creative materials were available for longer periods of the day in family day care settings than in informal settings with relatives.
  • On average, pretend-play materials were available for longer periods of the day in centre-based care and family day care settings than informal settings with relatives.
  • Provisions for active physical play and fine motor play were similar across all of the home-based care types. Family day carers were more likely to have different areas set up for specific types of play for more of the day than relatives and non-relative carers.

Supportive staff work environment

Carers/teachers in long day care centres and family day care schemes were asked to rate their level of agreement with statements describing aspects of a supportive workplace. Factor analysis was conducted separately for long day care and family day care staff, to compute a composite score for supportive work environment.

Long day care

Using Pearson product moment correlations as input, a principal components analysis for the six items revealed one factor accounting for 58.8 per cent of the common factor variance. Internal reliability was assessed to be within the acceptable range (α=0.86). Therefore, the six items were summed to form an overall ‘supportiveness’ variable. This produced a measure with a range of six (low supportiveness) to 30 (high supportiveness). The mean score (26.4, equivalent to 4.4 out of 5) and distribution (Figure 5) showed that the majority of long day care centre staff felt well supported in their workplace (score of 24 and above). However, a small number reported low to moderate levels of support.

Figure Description

Figure 5: Distribution of supportiveness in centre-based care environment

Figure 5: Distribution of supportiveness in centre-based care environment

Family day care

Factor analysis procedures were followed as described above for the five items completed by family day carers. One item (item 2: ‘I have a clear understanding of my roles and responsibilities’) was removed due to low communality. Principal components analysis using the four items revealed one factor accounting for 56.6 per cent of the common factor variance. Internal reliability was within the acceptable range (α=0.73) and therefore, the four items were summed to form an overall ‘supportiveness’ variable. This produced a measure with a range of four (low supportiveness) to 20 (high supportiveness). As was found for centre-based services, most carers felt well supported in their work environment (mean score of 17.1, equivalent to 4.3 out of 5). The distribution (Figure 6) showed that the majority of carers had scores of 16 and above. However, a small but sizable proportion reported low to moderate levels of support.

Figure Description

Figure 6: Distribution of supportiveness in family day care environment

Figure 6: Distribution of supportiveness in family day care environment

7.5 Contexts of care for the child cohort

Respondents

Information on the care/education context for 4 to 5 year olds was based on 3,242 mail-out questionnaires that were returned by the child’s teacher/carer. This represented an average 68.4 per cent return. The proportion of respondents for each care setting roughly matches the proportion of study children in each care setting. There was a slight overrepresentation of teachers/carers working in ‘preschool not in a school’ settings (74.6 per cent return) and a slight underrepresentation of teachers/carers working in ‘long day care centres’ (61.8 per cent return).

Table Description

Table 91: Teachers/carers who returned questionnaire by type
  Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care centre Total
Overall % 17.5 29.1 30.7 22.7 100
Returned n 567 944 993 737 3,242
Possible n 822 1,390 1,331 1,193 4,736
% returned 69.0 67.9 74.6 61.8 68.4

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add exactly to totals.

Teacher/carer demographic characteristics

Age

The age of teachers/carers differed across care groups. On average, those working in a preschool setting were between 5 and 7 years older than those working in a centre-based program. Pre-Year 1 teachers fell midway between the other two groups.

Table Description

Table 92: Teacher/carer age and experience by type


Carer demographics
Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
Mean
95% CI
Age 39.5 42.6 40.8 35.7
38.5–40.6 41.9–43.2 39.9–41.6 34.9–36.5
Experience (years) 14.6 16.5 15.3 11.0
13.8–15.5 15.9–17.1 14.6–16.0 10.4–11.7

Experience

The years of experience of a teacher/carer mirrored the age of the teacher/carer, with the highest mean years of experience being observed in those working in a preschool setting, the lowest in centre-based care, and pre-Year 1 falling between the two.

Qualifications and educational achievement

The level of education of teachers/carers provides some indication of the educational program in the centre. In most states and territories, the accepted criterion for a preschool program is the employment of a university-qualified early childhood or primary educated teacher, who is responsible for designing and implementing an educationally appropriate program. Table 93 presents the number and proportion of respondents for each level of education, from certificate to post-graduate study. Of the 2,989 staff who completed this component of the questionnaire, the majority held a university Bachelor degree or higher (60.8 per cent) and had studied early childhood education (63.1 per cent). Table 94 presents the number and proportion of respondents for the major fields of study that are deemed to be appropriate for early childhood work.

Table Description

Table 93: Education of teacher/carer
Education level of teacher/carer Frequency %
Masters or doctoral degree 58 1.9
Graduate diploma or graduate certificate 425 14.2
Bachelor degree 1,336 44.7
Advanced diploma or associate degree 144 4.8
Diploma or associate diploma 817 27.3
Certificate 99 3.3
Other 79 2.6
None of the above 31 1.0
Total 2,989 100

Table Description

Table 94: Field of study (for highest post-secondary education)
Field of study of teacher/carer n %
None/not completed 170 6.1
Early childhood education 1,808 63.1
Child care 197 7.1
Primary/secondary education 483 17.4
Nursing 8 0.3
Special education 74 2.7
Other field 36 1.3
Total 2,776 100

Staff qualifications (university degree versus less than university degree) and field of study were then compared across the four early education settings. Results indicated (Table 95) that school-based settings, pre-Year 1 (77.5 per cent) and preschools in a school (73.9 per cent), were similar in the proportion of staff who held university qualifications. Proportions of university qualified staff were lower for preschools not in a school (56.8 per cent) and lowest in long day care settings (42.7 per cent).

In terms of their areas of study, teachers in pre-Year 1 were least likely to have a qualification in early childhood education (41.4 per cent), with just over half (51.4 per cent) being qualified in primary or secondary education. Preschool teachers were most likely to be early childhood trained (77.7 per cent), whether working in preschools in a school or not in a school. Long day care centres staff reported both early childhood qualifications (51.3 per cent) and child care qualifications (25.3 per cent).

Table Description

Table 95: Staff qualifications by type of care/education setting
Qualification level Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care Total
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Diploma/certificate or less 22.5 26.1 43.2 57.3 37.5
18.8–26.6 22.8–29.5 39.0–47.6 52.5–61.9 35.5–39.6
121 222 382 372 1,096
University education 77.5 73.9 56.8 42.7 62.5
73.4–81.2 70.5–77.2 52.4–61.0 38.1–47.5 60.4–64.5
419 628 502 277 1,827
Total 100 100 100 100 100
100 100 100 100 100
540 850 884 649 2,923

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Table Description

Table 96: Field of study by type of care/education setting
Field of study Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care Total
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Early childhood education 41.4 77.7 77.7 51.3 65.1
37.0–46.0 74.4–80.7 73.7–81.3 46.8–55.9 63.1–67.1
218 614 668 308 1,808
Child care 0.0 0.5 4.7 25.3 7.1
0.0–0.0 0.2–1.1 3.1–7.2 22.2–28.7 6.2–8.1
0 4 41 152 197
Primary/secondary education 51.4 13.5 6.7 8.1 17.4
46.8–56.1 11.1–16.3 4.6–9.5 5.8–11.2 15.8–19.2
271 107 57 48 483
Nursing 0.0 0.1 0.4 0.6 0.3
0.0–0.0 0.0–0.4 0.1–1.2 0.2–1.3 0.1–0.5
0 1 4 3 8
Special education 2.0 3.5 3.7 0.6 2.7
1.2–3.5 2.3–5.2 2.4–5.8 0.2–1.7 2.0–3.5
11 28 32 4 74
Another field 2.0 0.4 1.3 2.0 1.3
1.1–3.6 0.1–1.0 0.8–2.2 1.1–3.6 1.0–1.8
10 3 11 12 36
Total 100 100 100 100 100
100 100 100 100 100
510 757 813 527 2,606

Teacher-to-child ratios

State and territory regulations for long day care centres for 4 to 5 year olds and preschool settings differ in terms of the stipulated ratios of adults-to-children and qualified teachers-to-children (for example, at Wave 1 of LSAC ratios were: 1:8 for long day care in South Australia; 1:10 in New South Wales and Tasmania; 1:15 in Victoria). Ratios also vary by type of educational setting, being higher once children reach school-age. Twenty children in a class is considered a good ratio (for example, New South Wales’ policy is ‘20 is plenty’ for kindergarten classes in schools), but numbers may be higher in many school settings.

Ratios for the LSAC child’s pre-Year 1 school classroom, preschool group and long day care centre were calculated from figures for the average number of children, number of paid adults and number of qualified staff typically working in the group that the study child attended. Results in Table 97 showed marked differences in staff-to-child ratios across the different types of care/education settings. More than 50 per cent (51.6) of long day care teachers reported a ratio of 1 adult to less than eight children compared with 38.4 per cent for preschool in a school and 11.8 per cent for pre-Year 1. Preschool not in a school was midway, with 43.2 per cent reporting a 1:<8 ratio. High numbers of children to adults were a common experience in pre-Year 1 classes: 53.8 per cent had ratios of more than one adult to 15 children. A small but significant number of long day care centres (4.5 per cent) reported very poor ratios (over 1:15). This was far less likely in preschool settings (1.2 per cent and 0.1 per cent, for preschool in a school and not in a school, respectively).

Table Description

Table 97: Paid staff-to-child ratios by care type
Number of children per adult Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care Total
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Less than 8 11.8 38.4 43.2 51.6 38.1
9.3–15.0 34.9–41.9 38.4–48.2 47.6–55.6 35.9–40.4
67 360 424 370 1,219
8 to 15 34.3 60.4 56.7 43.9 51.0
30.3–38.6 56.8–63.9 51.8–61.5 39.9–48.1 48.9–53.0
193 567 555 315 1,630
15 or higher 53.8 1.2 0.1 4.5 10.9
49.7–58.0 0.6–2.5 0.0–0.5 3.0–6.7 9.8–12.1
304 11 1 32 348
Total 100 100 100 100 100
100 100 100 100 100
564 938 979 716 3,197

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Equally telling of differences across service types were the ratios of qualified staff to children (Table 98). Again, long day care staff reported better ratios; 28.3 per cent had one qualified staff member for less than eight children, significantly higher than preschool settings not in a school (19.3 per cent) and pre-Year 1 classrooms (8.4 per cent), but not significantly different from preschools in a school (21.8 per cent). It is important to note, however, that qualifications in long day care were more likely to include TAFE or diploma trained staff, whereas qualifications in pre-Year 1 were predominately at university level, making percentage differences across settings difficult to interpret.

Table Description

Table 98: Qualified staff-to-child ratios by type of care/education setting
Number of children per qualified adult Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care Total
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Less than 8 8.4 21.8 19.3 28.3 20.1
6.1–11.4 18.7–25.3 15.9–23.1 24.3–32.6 18.3–22.1
47 204 190 202 643
8 to 15 23.0 39.9 22.3 38.4 31.2
19.6–26.8 36.0–43.9 18.7–26.2 34.5–42.5 29.1–33.3
130 374 219 274 996
15 or higher 68.6 38.3 58.5 33.3 48.7
64.5–72.5 34.6–42.1 54.0–62.8 29.4–37.5 46.5–51.0
387 359 576 237 1,559
Total 100 100 100 100 100
100 100 100 100 100
563 937 984 713 3,197

Note: This table contains population weighted data, so some of the components may not add exactly to totals. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100 exactly.

Approaches to learning

The nature of the educational program in children’s care/education settings was described by the usual amount of time spent on a typical day on four different activities (teacher-directed whole group, teacher-supported small group, teacher-supported individual and child-initiated), each designed to illustrate four approaches to learning. Mean ratings (1=never, 2=occasionally, 3=often, 4=always) are reported for each type of early education settings.

Results showed modest differences in the type of activities children were exposed to on a usual day across the four settings.

  • Children in pre-Year 1 were significantly more likely to experience higher levels (mean score of 3.7) of teacher-directed, whole-group activities than children in prior-to-school programs (mean scores of 3.1 to 3.0). This may be due to the different emphasis given to teaching and learning in pre-Year 1 versus preschool/long day care settings, or it may reflect the higher ratios of children to adults in pre-Year 1 versus preschool/long day care classrooms.
  • Prior-to-school settings were similar in the amount of teacher-directed experiences provided (mean scores of 3.1, 3.0 and 3.1 for preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, and long day care, respectively).
  • Teachers in pre-Year 1, preschool and long day care settings reported a similar amount of time spent on teacher-supported small group activities (mean scores of 3.3 to 3.2).

Table Description

Table 99: Description of approach to teaching by type of care/education setting
Approach to teaching Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
%
95% CI
n
Teacher-directed whole-group activities 3.7 3.1 3.0 3.1
3.3–3.4 3.1–3.2 3.0–3.1 3.0–3.1
561 883 930 693
Teacher-supported small group activities 3.3 3.3 3.2 3.3
3.2–3.4 3.3–3.3 3.2–3.3 3.2–3.3
560 883 931 693
Teacher-supported individual activities 3.1 3.2 3.4 3.3
3.1–3.2 3.2–3.3 3.3–3.4 3.3–3.4
561 880 928 693
Child-initiated activities 2.9 3.6 3.8 3.7
2.8–2.9 3.6–3.7 3.7–3.8 3.7–3.8
560 883 931 693
  • On the amount of time spent on teacher-supported individual activities, teachers in pre-Year 1 classes reported lower levels (mean=3.1) than teachers in preschools not in a school (mean=3.4) and long day care (mean=3.3) settings. Teachers in school-based preschools had scores (mean=3.2) midway between pre-Year 1 and non-school settings. While these ratings do not show large differences in providing teacher-supported individual activities, the differences that are apparent may be due to the higher ratios of children to adults in school-based programs.
  • There was a marked difference in the amount of time spent in child-initiated activities between formal school and prior-to-school settings. On average, children in pre-Year 1 were given less time during the day for child-initiated activities (mean score=2.9) than children attending the three types of preschool care and early education (mean score=3.6, 3.8 and 3.7). Only marginal differences were noted in the level of child-initiated activities provided in the three types of prior-to-school settings.

Provision and resources for play and learning

Teachers/carers were asked to indicate the level of provision of space and resources available to support the early education learning environment. Items 1 and 2 assessed the degree of space for independent learning areas to be developed and for a permanent quiet time/rest area. Items 3 to 7 assessed the provision of resources for art and writing, fine motor and problem-solving skill development, gross motor skill development, books for stimulating an interest in reading and the accessibility of resources to develop activities in response to children’s interests. Responses were scored on a 1 to 5 scale (1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree).

Scores were subjected to factor analysis using Pearson product moment correlations as input in a principal components analysis. Results revealed two factors accounting for 78.1 per cent of the common factor variance. Item 3 (resources for children’s interests) was removed due to significant cross-loading. The first factor was made up of items 4 to 7 and broadly represented ‘resources/materials’. The second factor was made up of items 1 and 2 and represented ‘space’. The internal reliability for both factors was acceptable (α=0.89 and 0.73, respectively); therefore, two composite measures were computed.

Results for the whole sample showed that the distribution of the ‘space’ and ‘resources/materials’ measures was highly skewed, indicating that the majority of teachers felt positively about their environment in terms of space and materials available to assist positive child development. Ratings for space received a mean score of 8.0 out of a possible maximum of 10. Similarly, teachers’ ratings of the availability of resources/materials for children’s learning and development were highly skewed towards a high level of provision (mean score of 18.5 out of a maximum of 20).

Teachers’/carers’ ratings of space and resources were examined across the four types of early education settings. Results showed that teachers in pre-Year 1 reported lower levels of space (mean score of 7.0) for independent learning areas and for quiet time/rest areas compared to prior-to-school settings (mean scores of 7.8 to 8.6). There were also significant differences within prior-to-school program types: lowest ratings (mean score of 7.8) for preschools in a school; middle ratings (mean score of 8.3) for preschools not in a school and highest rating (mean score of 8.6) for long day care centres.

The pattern of results for teachers’/carers’ ratings of resources/materials was similar. Teachers in pre-Year 1 reported lower ratings (mean score of 17.1) for materials being easily available to enhance children’s play and learning than the three prior-to-school settings (mean scores of 18.6 to 19.0). Ratings given by teachers/carers in preschools and long day care centres were not significantly different from each other.

Table Description

Table 100: Provisions for space and resources by type of care/education setting
  Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care
Mean space 7.0 7.8 8.3 8.6
95% CI 6.8–7.2 7.6–8.0 8.2–8.5 8.5–8.7
Mean resources 17.1 18.7 19.0 18.6
95% CI 16.9–17.4 18.6–18.9 18.8–19.2 18.4–18.8

Supportive staff work environment

Teachers/carers in early education settings provided ratings on six indicators of the supportiveness of their work environment, on a scale of 1 to 5. Factor analysis using Pearson product moment correlations as input to a principal components analysis revealed one factor accounting for 66.6 per cent of the common factor variance. Internal reliability was assessed and found to be within the acceptable range (α=0.90). Therefore, a composite score was computed to describe supportiveness of the workplace. The overall mean and distribution of scores for this measure showed that teachers rated their work environment as highly supportive. The overall mean was close to 27 out of a maximum score of 30, which is equivalent to a score of 4.5 out of 5. However, as noted for the infant cohort, a small proportion of staff indicated lower levels of supportiveness at work.

Ratings were then compared across the different types of care/education settings. Results showed that while there were statistically significant differences in the ratings of supportiveness across care/education settings, these differences were very small. In general, most teachers/carers indicated they found their workplace to be a highly supportive environment. On average, staff who indicated the lowest levels of a supportive work environment were those who worked in pre-Year 1 in schools (mean score of 25.9). Teachers/carers in preschool programs in not in a school settings reported the highest levels of supportiveness (mean score of 27.4). Teachers/carers in school-based preschools and long day care centres had mid-range scores for supportiveness (mean scores of 26.7 and 26.6, respectively).

Table Description

Table 101: Supportive work environment by type of care/education setting
Teacher rating of supportiveness Type of care/education setting
Pre-Year 1 Preschool in a school Preschool not in a school Long day care
Mean 25.9 26.7 27.4 26.6
95% CI 25.6–26.2 26.5–27.0 27.1–27.7 26.3–26.9

 

7.6 Discussion

In this section we examined the context of infant child care and 4 to 5 year-old children’s care and early education settings in relation to four aspects of quality reported by the LSAC infant’s or child’s carer/teacher. These included: structural features, which focus on carer/teacher demographics; positive practices in relation to carer–infant interaction and approaches to teaching and learning in early education (teacher-directed, teacher-supported, child-initiated); provisions for space and resources that enhance infants’ and children’s play, learning and development; and organisational features of the setting that support a positive environment for staff.

Limitations

These data provide broad coverage of quality in care/early education, but they are limited to some extent by the LSAC data collection procedures. Respondents were self-selected as ‘the person who is the main carer’ in the case of the infant cohort, or ‘the person who has primary responsibility for the planning and delivery of the group program’ for the child cohort. While we can be confident about the demographic data that describes the characteristics of the group—on group size and child to adult ratios—the data on carer/teacher qualifications are limited to information on respondent only and do not describe the characteristics of the other staff in the group. Furthermore, the respondent may not be the most qualified person in the setting. As a result, it is not possible to compare LSAC information on staff demographics in child care/early education with other more comprehensive surveys of staff qualifications (for example, FaCS 2005; OECD 2006).

A further limitation, especially for the infant cohort, is the small sample size, which may not be widely representative of staff demographics or other indicators of quality in infant care. Of a possible 1,180 respondents (carers of infants attending non-parental child care for more than eight hours per week), just under one-half (n=530; 44.6 per cent) returned the mail-out questionnaire. Of these 530 carers, 40 per cent (n=211) were working in long day care centres and 60 per cent were providing home-based care. The majority of home-based carers (42 per cent; n=222) were relatives of the LSAC infants; 14 per cent (n=67) were family day carers; and 4 per cent (n=30) were non-relatives. For descriptive purposes, and to provide a complete picture of the nature of the LSAC infants’ care experiences, we have included these four groups in our analyses, but the very small numbers of respondents in the family day care and non-relative care groups limit comparison across the four care types. A more meaningful approach, however, is possible by using a two-group categorisation of care: formal, which includes long day care and family day care, and informal, which includes care by relatives and non-relatives.

As noted in this and previous sections, informal home-based care is normally not subject to legislative frameworks, including the licensing standards of the state/territory governments and the national child care accreditation system. Therefore, these care settings were expected to vary more in quality than formal long day care and family day care. The analyses presented in this section provided mixed support for this position.

Structural indicators of quality: infant cohort

Demographic information confirmed that levels of education were generally higher for carers working in formal care, the majority of whom held diploma or university-level qualifications, compared to informal care settings. Relatives, usually grandparents, were on average older than other care providers, which may account for this group being the least likely to have achieved a diploma or university qualification. On the other hand, a carer’s age (which can be used as a proxy for years of experience as a care giver) was significantly lower for staff working in long day care compared to informal home-based carers as well as providers of family day care.

In terms of staff-to-child ratios, accurate figures were only available for long day care centres. We noted that the average number of adults-to-children was 1:4, which approximates state and territory regulations for infant care. However, there was considerable variation across the LSAC sample in relation to the ratio of qualified staff-to-children: ratios varied from excellent (1:<4) to very poor (1:>10).

Practice indicators of quality: infant cohort

Process quality for infant child care was assessed by carers’ reports of their daily practices and the provision of space and resources to support infant play and development. In general, carers’ level of involvement in positive practices such as singing, playing and reading with children, or providing individual attention in routine care, was similar across all four types of infant care. Carers in informal settings reported being less involved in active outdoor play than carers in formal settings, which is likely due to the high number of grandparents providing care. Interestingly however, provisions for active play, such as balls and ride-on or push-along toys, were equally available to infants, regardless of the type of setting they attended. This was not the case, however, for materials and resources to support language development or creative and pretend play. For these three areas of learning, appropriate resources were less available to infants receiving care in informal home-based settings. The higher level of resources and great presence or access to materials for infant learning in formal care settings is probably influenced by external requirements (national and state/territory) for quality assurance, the input of qualified staff and parent support through fund-raising. Provision of materials for learning in informal care settings may also be limited by the financial capacities of home-based carers.

Carers were also asked to report the level of negative interaction, specifically time spent in managing problem behaviour. Results showed that more time was spent on difficult interaction in formal care settings, which was likely due to the higher number of children attending these settings compared to informal home-based care.

Structural indicators of quality: child cohort

In comparison to the infant cohort, the 4 to 5 year-old cohort provided a large, representative sample of the main forms of early childhood education. More than 96 per cent of children were attending a formal centre or school-based care/education program and two-thirds of their teachers/carers (n=3,242; 68.4 per cent) completed and returned the mail-out questionnaire. The proportion of teachers who returned their questionnaires in each type of settings (pre-Year 1: 17.5 per cent; preschool: 59.8 per cent; long day care: 22.7 per cent) matched the proportion of LSAC children attending these settings (pre-Year 1: 16.5 per cent; preschool: 54.6 per cent; long day care: 23.9 per cent).

All of these types of early education settings are subject to state and territory or Australian Government quality assurance procedures, but requirements for staff numbers and qualifications are not consistent, either at a national level or by jurisdiction (in a school setting versus not in a school setting). Not surprisingly then, there was considerable variation in the demographic characteristics of the respondents across the four types of care/early education settings. As reported for the infant cohort, carers/teachers in long day care were younger and had fewer years experience in early childhood education and care than their counterparts in preschools and schools. They were also less likely to have a university qualification. Only 42.7 per cent of respondents in long day care held a university degree, compared to 56.8 per cent in preschools not in a school, 73.9 per cent in school-based preschools and 77.5 per cent in pre-Year 1. This is of concern when viewed in light of international research showing that quality education programs are more likely to occur when staff are experienced and well qualified.

Practice indicators of quality: child cohort

Process quality in early education settings was assessed by teacher-reported practices, which described approaches to learning on a continuum from teacher-directed to teacher-supported to child-initiated, and provisions within the classroom environment to support children’s independent learning through a range of means. Practices in pre-Year 1 settings favoured a teacher-directed approach and gave less attention to teacher-supported individual or child-initiated activities than in preschool and long day care centres. Children attending preschools and long day care programs were more likely to have regular opportunities for teacher-supported individual and child-initiated learning experiences. Similar findings were reported for children’s access to space and materials for learning. Teachers in pre-Year 1 reported lower scores than teachers and carers in preschools and long day care.

Organisational indicators of quality

Organisational and management practices that support and empower carers and teachers are important prerequisites for quality and consistency in the workforce. When staff feel valued and rewarded, they are more likely to feel satisfied at work and maintain a positive commitment to the children in their care. In general, carers and teachers in formal settings for infants and 4 to 5 year olds rated centre/school organisation and staff morale at a good to high level (average scores of 4.3 to 4.7 on a five-point scale). While results showed statistically significant differences in the ratings of supportiveness across settings, the differences were very small and, in general, most teachers indicated they found their workplace to be a highly supportive environment.

Conclusion

Despite the limitations of sample size and selection of respondents identified above, the data presented in this section provide initial support for the validity and robustness of the LSAC measures of quality in child care/early education settings. This section also supports the appropriateness of including a selection of these measures in multivariate analyses to assess the impact of care/early education on child outcomes (where sample size permits). For Wave 1 analyses, this was appropriate only for the 4 to 5 year-old cohort. Items flagged for inclusion in multivariate analyses were demographic indicators of quality, such as teachers’ level of qualifications, specialist study in early childhood, years of experience and the ratio of qualified staff to children. Program quality, as described by approaches to teaching and learning, was also identified as an important variable for inclusion. The results of these analyses are reported in Section 8.

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8. Infant and child outcomes

8.1 Introduction

This section examines infant health and development outcomes, and child social and cognitive outcomes, in a series of multivariable analyses designed to assess the contribution of children’s child care and early education experiences. All analyses also account for child characteristics, family circumstances, and maternal personality and wellbeing, which are expected to be important predictors of child outcomes.

Initial analyses focus on the information provided in the home interview by the primary care giver about the child’s current care/early education (type, amount and stability as represented by the number of current arrangements) and age of entry into first child care arrangement.

Secondary analyses focus on the information provided in the mail-out questionnaire by the carer/teacher in the child’s main care setting, to assess any additional contribution of quality of care/education. Due to the marked differences in quality indicators (noted in Chapter 7), separate analyses were conducted for two subgroups of children—the group attending pre-Year 1 classes and the group attending preschool and long day care centres. These secondary analyses are limited by the reduced sample size—including only children attending care/education with carers/teachers who returned the questionnaire.

8.2 Section summary

The multivariable analyses of infant and child outcomes produced a range of results.

  • For infants, parent-reported low physical health and incidence of acute infections were higher for those attending long day care centres and those receiving more total hours of non-parental child care.
  • When the amount of infant care was examined in combination with specific types of care, poorer health outcomes were associated with longer hours in centre-based care. The reverse relationship was true in regard to relative-based care—up to 20 hours per week of care with a relative were associated with lower incidence of infection.
  • No consistent pattern of association was identified between infant communication skill and child care characteristics. Falling within the ‘concern’ range was less likely for infants placed in informal care. An increased chance of an infant falling within the ‘concern’ range was noted where infants were older when starting their care placement and where centre-based care was in the range of nine to 20 hours.
  • For 4 to 5 year olds, pro-social and problem behaviours, as rated by mothers, were not independently associated with any feature of the child’s current or past care or early education. Significant predictors of more problems were risk factors associated with maternal age, education, employment, wellbeing, number of children in the family and family income.
  • Teacher/carer-rated pro-social and problem behaviour differed by type of care/early education setting (generally poorer outcomes in pre-Year 1 and preschool settings), which may reflect teacher expectations and the demands of the setting rather than child differences.
  • Children who attended multiple care/education settings each week received poorer ratings on pro-social and problem behaviour outcomes from their teachers.
  • Children whose main care/education setting was pre-Year 1, preschool (only) or long day care only had higher scores for receptive vocabulary when compared to children who attended long day care with other care.
  • Children’s receptive vocabulary scores were negatively associated with the amount of weekly care/education received, particularly as hours went over 31 to 40 or more than 40 hours per week.
  • Early literacy and numeracy skills were highest in the group of children who had entered pre-Year 1 at school. Type of care/education setting for children not yet in pre-Year 1 was not associated with differences in children’s literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Attending an early childhood program for more than eight hours per week, but less than 31 hours per week, was associated with higher literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Indices of care/education quality were moderately associated with child social and learning outcomes for pre-Year 1 classrooms, but only minimally for preschool and long day care settings. Mothers’ ratings of child pro-social behaviour were higher, and problem behaviour were lower, when the child’s teacher/carer held a university qualification. Children’s scores on the PPVT were higher when pre-Year 1 teachers held an early childhood specialisation. Better ratios of qualified staff to children, particularly for pre-Year 1 classrooms, were associated with improved outcomes for mothers’ and teachers’ ratings of pro-social behaviour and problem behaviour, and for children’s performance on the PPVT test of receptive vocabulary.
  • Approaches to learning, which measured teaching practices in the child’s group or classroom, also contributed to social and learning outcomes. More frequent provision of teacher-supported small group activities was associated with higher ratings for child pro-social behaviour in preschool/long day care and higher scores in early literacy and numeracy in pre-Year 1. In contrast, more time in child-initiated activities was associated with lower scores for literacy and numeracy, and poorer social and behavioural outcomes in pre-Year 1, as rated by mothers. For children in preschool/long day care settings, more time in teacher-directed whole group activities was associated with higher literacy and numeracy scores.

8.3 Outcomes for the infant cohort

Overview of analytic approach

Several child care characteristics were modelled with respect to their association with measures of infant wellbeing. Child care variables of interest included: care type, number of hours in care, number of regular non-parental care arrangements, hours of centre-based care, hours of relative-based care and the infant’s age of entry into their first non-parental care arrangement. To study the independent effects of these child care characteristics, models were adjusted for the effects of selected family, maternal and child sociodemographic characteristics and parenting variables. These covariates included: mother’s age at time of child’s birth, her education and employment status, family type, household income, number of children in household, language spoken at home, the study child’s age, sex, Indigenous status, and the mother’s level of psychological distress, her separation anxiety, her parenting behaviour and her confidence in parenting.

Analysis of type of care/education was conducted on the whole sample of infants and children. Analyses of amount and stability were conducted on the reduced sample of infants and children who were currently attending non-parental care/education. It should also be noted that it was anticipated that the relationship between specific care characteristics (for example, quality of care received and ratio of staff to children) and outcomes would be examined; however, due to the low numbers of infants in care and the low return rate of carer questionnaires, multivariable modelling could not be conducted.

In preparing the data for analyses of the infant cohort, two issues needed to be addressed. First, in cross-classification analysis, several of the care measures revealed substantial collinearity; for example, children attending a higher number of non-parental care settings also received a higher number of hours in non-parental care. Second, some analyses were affected by small cell sizes when looking at particular combinations of care variables, thus making it unfeasible to conduct a multivariable analysis to examine the independent effect of each care variable on the infant wellbeing measures. To address these problems, separate multivariable analyses were conducted for each care variable rather than modelling care characteristics simultaneously. This means that caution must be exercised when interpreting the effects of predictors on child care variables, because the possible confounding effects of other care variables have not been simultaneously modelled.

Outcome measures

For the infant cohort, three outcome measures were examined: two measures of physical health (the Physical Outcomes Index and ongoing problems with diarrhoea or infections) and one measure of communication (the Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scale or CSBS).

The Physical Outcomes Index was used as an early indicator of the infants’ physical health. This measure was constructed by combining parent-response items, which rated the infants’ current overall physical health and their special health care needs (for further information on this measure see Sanson et al. 2005 and Wake et al. 2008). Specifically, it is a composite variable aggregating parent responses across selected items pertaining to the health of the infant. These items included a single item rating the infants’ overall global health (1=excellent to 5=poor); and a binary item denoting special health care needs (derived from six component items indicating whether the infant needed medication or ‘more medical care than is usual for most children of the same age’ because of a condition that had lasted or was expected to last 12 months or more). Thus, the infant health outcome measure combines a non-specific global health rating and a broad rating of health indicators that reflect more chronic (in the sense of lasting 12 months or more) ill health. Due to the skewed nature of the measure, it has been used as a binomial variable. Infants falling in the bottom 15 per cent of the distribution were categorised as having ‘low’ physical health; those falling in the top 85 per cent were classified as having ‘higher’ physical health. In the following analysis, the likelihood of low physical health has been modelled.

A second measure of infant physical health was developed for this report, based on parental information about ongoing problems with diarrhoea or infections. While demands on the range of LSAC content precluded greater specificity of health content, three questions were asked pertaining to the ongoing presence of an infection in the infant. These items, and their prevalence, included: diarrhoea or colitis (1.1 per cent), ear infections (4.0 per cent) and other infections (1.0 per cent). These three items were summed as an indicator of acute infection and used in supplementary analyses to assess the stability in our observed associations between infant health and child care characteristics.

Infant communication was assessed using the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales—Infant/Toddler Checklist (CSBS) (Wetherby & Prizant 2001), which was completed during the parent interview. The scales are normed on a nationally representative sample of 2,000 children from the United States. They comprise a 24-item checklist for children aged 6 to 24 months covering key pre-linguistic domains found to be predictive of later language competence (emotion and use of eye gaze, use of communication, use of gestures, use of sounds, understanding of words, use of words and use of objects). These were summed to communication, expressive speech and symbolic composites with both standard scores and composites, as well as a total score. The total score is used in this analysis and has been dichotomised by using the recommended developmentally age-appropriate cut-offs to denote ‘no concern’ or ‘concern’ with respect to the infants’ communication and symbolic behaviour. For economy of reporting we refer to no concern or concern with the infants’ emergent communication skill to denote outcomes on the CSBS total score.

As mentioned earlier, the relationship between each outcome measure and each care measure was examined in a separate multivariable logistic regression analysis (adjusting for sociodemographic and parenting variables). It should be noted that the samples on which these analyses were conducted were slightly different depending on the care measure being examined. Multivariable analyses examining care type used the entire available sample; those including number of care settings, hours in care (non-parental, centre-based or relative) or age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement were conducted on a sample restricted to cases in non-parental care.

The results of the logistic regression model are expressed in terms of odds ratios. The effects of the covariate sociodemographic and parenting variables are discussed in the first table for each of the outcome measures (care type); for the subsequent care measures these covariates are simply adjusted for and not discussed in great depth (or provided in tables). This was done to reduce the length of the section and keep the focus on the effects of care measures.

Interpreting odds ratios

In the logistic regression models, the odds ratio is calculated for each predictor variable. Where an odds ratio is above one, it indicates an increased level of risk; whereas an odds ratio of less than one indicates a reduced level of risk. The statistical significance of an odds ratio can be judged by whether the 95 per cent confidence interval includes (or crosses over) the reference value of 1.00. Where this occurs, the odds ratio is not significant.

Categorical predictors have one category to which the others are compared to generate odds ratios. This is labelled the Reference Category (Ref.). For example, in the model predicting ‘low physical health’, ‘exclusive parental care’ has been used as the reference category in the ‘care type’ variable. The odds ratio (OR) (adjusted) for children who attended ‘long day care only’ was 2.215 (95% CI: 1.541–3.185). In this instance, the confidence interval does not contain 1.00: thus the effect is considered statistically significant. This can be interpreted as saying that children who attended long day care centres were 2.215 times more likely to have low physical health than children who received exclusive parental care.

Results—physical health

The Physical Outcomes Index is reported in the following analyses as the likelihood of low physical health.

Care type (using entire sample)

Generally, exclusive parental care was associated with better infant physical health after adjusting for sociodemographic and parenting variables (Table 102). Relative to infants in exclusive parental care, infants in all other care arrangements apart from family day care were more likely to have low physical health outcomes with odds ratios ranging from 1.33 to 2.22. For example, about 14 per cent of children receiving exclusive parental care were reported by their parent to have low physical health compared with about 21 per cent of children receiving long day care only. The physical health of infants receiving family day care with or without long day care did not significantly differ from those in exclusive parental care.

Covariates showed relatively few significant associations. Higher proportions of male infants were rated less healthy, Indigenous infants were significantly more likely to fall in the low physical health category and the odds of an infant having ‘low’ physical health decreased with age. With respect to maternal characteristics, the odds of the child being rated with low physical health decreased with maternal self-efficacy and positive parenting. Infants of mothers with diplomas or trade certificates were less likely to have low physical health relative to mothers with Year 10 or less education; otherwise there was no notable trend in the relationship between infant health and maternal education. Compared to infants who lived in a household without siblings, those who had one or two other children in the house were slightly more likely to have low physical health.

Table Description

Table 102: Effect of care type on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index (n=3,790)
Variable Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
Care type
     Exclusive parental care Ref  
     Long day care only 2.215 (1.541–3.185)
     Family day care only or with long day care 1.550 (0.894–2.687)
     Informal relative only 1.326 (1.012–1.737)
     Informal non-relative only or with relative 1.488 (1.024–2.163)
     Informal plus formal 2.171 (1.431–3.292)
Maternal characteristics
Mother’s age at birth of child (years)
     <25 1.140 (0.847–1.535)
     25 to 34 Ref  
     35+ 0.813 (0.643–1.027)
Mother’s education
     Year 10 or less Ref  
     Year 11 or 12 0.855 (0.617–1.183)
     Trade certificate or diploma 0.674 (0.501–0.906)
     University 0.793 (0.589–1.068)
Mother’s employment status
     Full-time 0.750 (0.518–1.088)
     Part-time 0.870 (0.692–1.093)
     Not working Ref  
Mother’s psychological distress
     Normal range (low) Ref  
     Clinically significant distress (high) 1.096 (0.873–1.377)
Mother’s parenting self-efficacy
     Lower 1.382 (1.126–1.696)
     Higher Ref  
Mother’s positive parenting behaviour
     Lower 1.294 (1.046–1.601)
     Higher Ref  
Mother’s separation anxiety
     Low 0.952 (0.776–1.168)
     Medium Ref  
     High 1.057 (0.842–1.326)
Family characteristics
Number of children in the household
     1 Ref  
     2 1.369 (1.118–1.676)
     3 1.493 (1.157–1.926)
     4 or more 1.479 (0.989–2.213)
Weekly household income ($)
     Less than 600 Ref  
     600 to 999 0.888 (0.656–1.202)
     1,000 to 1,499 0.779 (0.567–1.070)
     1,500 to 1,999 0.773 (0.531–1.124)
     More than 2,000 0.752 (0.503–1.124)
Study child characteristics and subgroups
Child’s sex
     Male 1.254 (1.052–1.495)
     Female Ref  
Child’s age (continuous variable)
     Age in weeks 0.985 (0.977–0.993)
Indigenous status
     Non-Indigenous Ref  
     Indigenous 1.520 (1.038–2.227)
Family type
Lone parent 0.997 (0.707–1.405)
     Couple Ref  
Language spoken at home
     English only Ref  
Other language 1.163 (0.888–1.523)

Note: Ref=reference category used to calculate odds ratio.

Hours per week in non-parental care (restricted to infants in non-parental care)

Multivariable analyses (adjusting for sociodemographic and parenting variables) revealed an increase in hours of non-parental care associated with increases in the proportions of infants with low physical health. Specifically, for every additional four hours an infant spent in non-parental care, there was an increase of about 10 per cent in the proportion of children with low physical health (Table 103). This finding was further investigated by assessing hours in combination with type of non-parental care.

Table Description

Table 103: Effect of hours per week in non-parental care on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index (n=1,327)
Variable Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
Hours per week in care (increments of four hours) 1.097 (1.044–1.154)

Hours of centre-based care

The relationship between low physical health and length of time in centre-based care was assessed by classifying the infants currently receiving some non-parental child care into four groups: those with zero hours of centre-based care, those with one to eight hours, those with nine to 20 hours and those with 21 hours or more. After adjusting for sociodemographic and parenting variables, infants who received 21 hours or more per week of centre-based care were more than twice as likely to be rated as having low physical health outcomes relative to those who received zero hours (ORadj=2.22; 95% CI: 1.39–3.54; unadjusted figures: 77.0 per cent versus 84.8 per cent) (Table 104). However, children receiving less than 21 hours per week of care were no more likely to be rated as having low physical health as children receiving no hours of centre-based care.

Table Description

Table 104: Effect of hours per week in centre-based care on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index (n=1,327)
Hours per week in centre-based care Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
0 Ref  
1 to 8 1.565 (0.997–2.458)
9 to 20 1.378 (0.896–2.120)
21 or more 2.218 (1.388–3.544)

Hours of relative care

The relationship between low physical health and length of time in care from relatives was assessed by classifying the infants into four groups: zero hours of relative care, those with one to eight hours, those with nine to 20 hours and those with 21 hours or more. After adjusting for sociodemographic and parenting variables, there was no statistically significant effect of hours of relative care on the proportions of infants rated with low physical health (Table 105).

Table Description

Table 105: Effect of hours per week in relative care on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index (n=1,327)
Hours per week in relative care Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
0 Ref  
1 to 8 0.772 (0.535–1.114)
9 to 20 0.882 (0.590–1.320)
21 or more 0.634 (0.334–1.203)

Number of regular non-parental care arrangements per week (restricted to infants in non-parental care)

Estimates of the relationship between the number of non-parental care arrangements and low physical health were confined to comparisons of two groups of infants: those with one non-parental care arrangement and those with two or more such arrangements. Multivariable findings revealed no significant difference in the proportions of infants with low physical health for those with one non-parental arrangement and those with two or more (ORadj=1.09; 95% CI: 0.78–1.53; unadjusted: 16.8 per cent versus 17.4 per cent) (Table 106).

Table Description

Table 106: Effect of number of regular non-parental care arrangements on the likelihood of child having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index (n=1,327)
Number of regular care arrangements per week Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
One Ref  
Two or more 1.094 (0.782–1.532)

Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (restricted to infants in non-parental care)

The relationship between the age of the infant on entry to their first non-parental care arrangement and low physical health was assessed by classifying the infants into four groups: those aged birth to 3 months, 3 to 6 months, 6 to 9 months, and 9 months and older on entry to their first non-parental care arrangement. After adjusting for sociodemographic and parenting variables, infants aged 9 months or older at the time of entry into their first care setting were approximately one-third (ORadj=0.32; 95% CI 0.16–0.64) as likely to have low physical health than children who were aged birth to 3 months (Table 107). The unadjusted figures were: 6.5 per cent in the ‘low physical health’ category for infants 9 months or older on entry to non-parental care versus 17.2 per cent for infants aged birth to 3 months.

Table Description

Table 107: Effect of age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index (n=1,327)
Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
0 to 13 weeks Ref  
14 to 26 weeks 1.338 (0.954–1.876)
27 to 39 weeks 0.934 (0.640–1.362)
40 weeks or older 0.321 (0.162–0.636)

Infant physical health—acute infections

Level of acute infection was derived from the sum of the incidence of diarrhoea, colitis, ear infections and other infections.

Broadly, the pattern of associations found with acute infections and child care characteristics was similar to that found with the infant Physical Outcome Index (Table 108). After controlling for sociodemographic and parenting variables, care type was significantly related to whether a child had ongoing problems with diarrhoea, colitis or other infections. Infants in long day care were almost twice as likely to have at least one of these health problems as children in exclusive parental care (ORadj=1.93; 95% CI 1.19–3.12; unadjusted: 11.4 per cent versus 5.0 per cent). Similarly, the number of hours a child spent in long day care was significantly related to whether that child had ongoing problems with diarrhoea, colitis or other infections. Compared to children who attended only home-based care settings (zero hours in centre-based care), those who spent 21 or more hours in centre-based care were more than three times as likely to have ongoing problems with diarrhoea, colitis or other infections (ORadj=3.22; 95% CI 1.72–6.03; unadjusted: 13.0 per cent versus 4.6 per cent). In contrast, part-time hours of relative care decreased the risk of infection. After controlling for sociodemographic and parenting variables, infants who spent one to eight or nine to 20 hours with relatives were nearly half as likely to have ongoing problems with diarrhoea, colitis or other infections compared to children who attended other types of care (ORadj=0.59; 95% CI 0.35–0.98 and ORadj=0.47; 95% CI 0.25–0.89; unadjusted 5.0 per cent and 4.6 per cent versus 8.2 per cent, respectively).

Infants attending two or more care settings were less likely to have health problems than children attending one care setting (ORadj=0.43; 95% CI 0.25–0.74; unadjusted: 3.5 per cent versus 7.1 per cent). This counterintuitive finding is likely due to the fact that multiple care arrangements were primarily in home-based care settings, whereas when a long day care centre was used, it was usually the infant’s only care arrangement. Thus, the effects are in keeping with the finding that poor health outcomes were principally associated with attendance at long day care and longer hours in long day care. No association was observed between infant infections and the age of entry into first non-parental care.

Table Description

Table 108: Effect of care measures on the likelihood of the study infant having an ongoing problem with diarrhoea or infection
Variable Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
Care type (n=3,774)
     Exclusive parental care(a) Ref  
     Long day care only 1.930 (1.192–3.124)
     Family day care only or with long day care 0.967 (0.461–2.205)
     Informal relative only 0.788 (0.495–1.252)
     Informal non-relative only or with relative 0.748 (0.395–1.415)
     Informal plus formal 0.744 (0.361–1.532)
Hours per week in care (increments of four hours) (n=1,323) 1.058 (0.968–1.155)
Number of regular care arrangements per week (n=1,323)
     1 Ref  
     2 or more 0.428 (0.248–0.740)
Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (weeks) (n=1,323)
     0 to 13 Ref  
     14 to 26 1.177 (0.709–1.954)
     27 to 39 1.306 (0.662–2.578)
     40 or older 0.625 (0.239–1.635)
Hours per week in centre-based care (n=1,323)
     0 Ref  
     1 to 8 2.107 (0.998–4.449)
     9 to 20 1.597 (0.847–3.008)
     21 or more 3.223 (1.721–6.033)
Hours per week in relative care (n=1,323)
     0 Ref  
     1 to 8 0.589 (0.354–0.980)
     9 to 20 0.467 (0.246–0.886)
     21 or more 0.498 (0.183–1.352)

(a) Adjusted for sociodemographic and parenting variables, but not other care measures.

Results—communication

Infant communication skill is modelled as an emergent communication skill that falls below the ‘concern’ cut-off.

Care type (using entire sample)

The association between infant communication skill and care type was assessed with multivariable logistic regression. Infants receiving informal care were significantly less likely to fall within the ‘concern’ category for emergent communication abilities relative to infants in exclusive parental care: non-relative only or with relative (ORadj=0.54; 95% CI 0.34–0.85; and relative only ORadj=0.69; 95% CI 0.50–0.95).

Covariate analyses showed an increased likelihood of an infant falling within the ‘concern’ range with increasing family size, older maternal age, lower maternal separation anxiety and lower maternal self-efficacy, and a decreased likelihood of falling within the ‘concern’ range with higher separation anxiety (Table 109).

Table Description

Table 109: Effect of care type (adjusted odds ratios) on the likelihood of child falling into ‘concern’ on the Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scale (n=3,349)
Variable Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
Care type
     Exclusive parental care Ref  
     Long day care only 0.962 (0.689–1.345)
     Family day care only or with long day care 0.672 (0.355–1.271)
     Informal non-relative only or with relative 0.541 (0.344–0.852)
     Informal relative care only 0.690 (0.501–0.950)
     Informal plus formal 0.858 (0.526–1.400)
Maternal characteristics
Mother’s age at birth of child (years)
     <25 0.833 (0.606–1.145)
     25 to 34 Ref  
     35+ 1.282 (1.031–1.594)
Mother’s education
     Year 10 or less Ref  
     Year 11 or 12 1.330 (0.915–1.934)
     Trade certificate or diploma 0.975 (0.689–1.380)
     University 1.058 (0.721–1.552)
Mother’s employment status
     Full-time 0.767 (0.502–1.173)
     Part-time 0.964 (0.759–1.223)
     Not working Ref  
Mother’s psychological distress
     Normal range (low) Ref  
     Clinically significant distress (high) 0.944 (0.734–1.215)
Mother’s self-efficacy
     Lower 1.560 (1.231–1.978)
     Higher Ref  
Mother’s positive parenting behaviour
     Lower 1.120 (0.904–1.389)
     Higher Ref  
Mother’s separation anxiety
     Low 1.528 (1.248–1.870)
     Medium Ref  
     High 0.694 (0.518–0.928)
Family characteristics
Number of children in the household
     1 Ref  
     2 1.841 (1.443–2.348)
     3 2.656 (2.026–3.481)
     4 or more 2.723 (1.869–3.967)
Weekly income ($)
     Less than 600 Ref  
     600 to 999 1.037 (0.726–1.480)
     1,000 to 1,499 1.290 (0.904–1.841)
     1,500 to 1,999 1.033 (0.684–1.559)
     More than 2,000 1.171 (0.767–1.789)
Study child characteristics and subgroups
Child’s sex
     Male 1.038 (0.865–1.245)
     Female Ref  
Child’s age (continuous variable)
     Age in weeks 1.009 (0.999–1.019)
Indigenous status
     Non-Indigenous Ref  
     Indigenous 1.345 (0.843–2.146)
Family type
     Lone parent 1.050 (0.683–1.613)
     Couple Ref  
Language spoken at home
     English only Ref  
     Other language 0.749 (0.547–1.025)

Hours per week in non-parental care (restricted to infants in non-parental child care)

Multivariable analyses revealed that for every additional four hours a child spent in non-parental care there was no significant change in the proportion of infants falling within the ‘concern’ category for communication (ORadj=1.06; 95% CI: 1.00–1.13). This result was further examined by assessing the amount of care in relation to the type of care.

Hours of centre-based care

The relationship between an infant falling into the ‘concern’ category for communication skill and the length of time in centre-based care was assessed by classifying the infants attending non-parental child care into four groups: those with zero hours of centre-based care, one to eight hours, nine to 20 hours and 21 hours or more. Infants who received nine to 20 hours per week of centre-based care were significantly more likely to fall within the ‘concern’ range with respect to the communication skills relative to those infants receiving zero hours (ORadj=1.78; 95% CI: 1.17–2.72; unadjusted: 18.6 per cent versus 11.4 per cent).

Hours of relative care

The relationship between the emergent communication skill of study infants and length of time in the care of relatives was assessed by classifying the study infants into four groups: those with zero hours of relative care, one to eight hours, nine to 20 hours and 21 hours or more. There was no significant association between communication skill of the infant and the number of hours spent in the care of relatives after adjusting for covariates.

Number of regular non-parental care arrangements per week (restricted to infants in non-parental child care)

Multivariable findings revealed no significant difference in an infant’s emergent communication skill associated with attending one non-parental care arrangement versus two or more such arrangements (ORadj=0.85; 95% CI: 0.59–1.23; unadjusted: 12.7 per cent versus 12.1 per cent).

Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (restricted to infants in non-parental care)

A significant association was observed concerning the relationship between the age of an infant when they first entered non-parental care and emergent communication abilities of the infant. After adjusting for sociodemographic and parenting variables, infants aged 6 to 9 months at the time of entry into their first care arrangement were significantly more likely to fall within the ‘concern’ category for their communication skill (ORadj=2.08; 95% CI: 1.35–3.20; unadjusted: 18.5 per cent versus 10.7 per cent) relative to infants who entered care aged birth to 3 months (Table 110).

Table Description

Table 110: Effect of age of entry into first non-parental care on the likelihood of the parent reporting ‘concern’ about infant emergent communication skill (n=1,258)
Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (weeks) Adjusted odds ratio (95% CI)
0 to 13 Ref  
14 to 26 1.008 (0.658–1.544)
27 to 39 2.080 (1.351–3.203)
40 or older 1.002 (0.525–1.911)

Infant outcomes—summary and discussion

The average age of the infant cohort at the time of interview was 8.8 months (range: 3 to 19 months). The measures of infant physical health and communication skill are hardly ‘outcomes’ at this age and so the term is being used in the widest sense.

Findings show relatively consistent patterns of associations between the ratings of the physical health of infants and particular care characteristics. Broadly, infants in the exclusive care of their parents were rated as having better physical health.

Higher proportions of infants had poorer health when they were in the following non-parental care settings: long day care, relative care, non-relative care, and mixed formal and informal care. Infants in family day care homes were no different to infants in exclusive parental care, in relation to their physical health outcomes. Poorer health outcomes were noted for infants who were spending longer hours (21 hours per week or more) in centre-based care. There was no association, however, between hours of care and poorer health for home-based care.

Infants who were older when first starting care were more likely to have higher physical health. There was no noted association between the actual number of care arrangements and infant physical health.

These observations were supported by our specific analysis of acute infections. Exposure to long day care and longer hours (21 hours per week or more) of long day care were associated with a higher prevalence of acute infections in infants. In contrast, up to 20 hours per week of care with relatives were associated with a lower prevalence of infection. Furthermore, there was an association between infants receiving multiple care (that is, two or more arrangements per week) and a lowered incidence of infections. Note that multiple care was more often a mix of informal arrangements, such as both sets of grandparents. The precise mechanism(s) of these different effects on infant health is not addressed in the current analysis; however, the pattern observed was one of home-based care settings reducing risk and centre-based care increasing risk. Certainly exposure to risk of infection is implied in the sense that care in group settings exposes young infants to larger numbers of other infants (and carers) and increases (at least) the opportunity for infection.

We noted no consistent pattern of association between infant communication skill and care characteristics. Infant communication skill was less likely to be of ‘concern’ where infants were cared for in informal arrangements with relatives or non-relatives. More ‘concern’ was noted where infants attended centre-based care in the range of nine to 20 hours per week, or had started child care between 6 and 9 months of age. Taken in combination, these findings are difficult to interpret. Interpretation is made more difficult given the age of the infants, the nature of the rating scale for infant communication (collected via parent report rather than independent observer or direct measure, and based on norms created in the United States) and the wide variability in the emergence of speech and language in infants of this age. Follow-up in subsequent waves may provide greater clarity in considering these early observations. Importantly however, there are no striking early associations in these data that would give rise to broader concerns about the impact of formal care on the emergent language development of children receiving such care at this age.

8.4 Outcomes for the child cohort

Overview of analytic approach

Several child care/early education characteristics were modelled with respect to their association with measures of child social (pro-social behaviour and behaviour problems) and cognitive (receptive vocabulary and early literacy/numeracy skills) outcomes. The child care/education variables of interest included: care type, number of hours in child care/education, number of regular child care/education arrangements and the child’s age of entry into their first non-parental child care/education arrangement. To study the independent effects of these child care/education characteristics, models were adjusted for the effects of selected family, mother and child sociodemographic characteristics and parenting variables. These covariates included: mother’s age at time of child’s birth, her education and employment status, family type, weekly household income, number of children in the household, language spoken at home, the study child’s age, sex and Indigenous status, as well as the mother’s level of psychological distress, her parenting behaviour and her confidence in parenting (Sections 5 and 6 fully describe these variables).

Separate models were computed using general linear modelling for each of six child outcome variables: mother-reported pro-social and problem behaviour, teacher-reported pro-social and problem behaviour, receptive vocabulary and early literacy/numeracy. Each model was assessed by simultaneous entry of the predictor care/education variables and covariates, which were regressed on each child outcome measure. Models were fitted with and without the care/education characteristics of interest, compared and the proportion change in overall R2 assessed for significance and magnitude.

The effects of child care/early education on child outcomes were examined in three stages. In the initial stage of analysis, the sample used for examining the effects of these care/education variables was restricted to children who received some form of non-parental care (that is, the very small group of children in exclusive parental care was not included). The sample was restricted because children who received exclusive parental care, by definition, attended no hours of centre or school-based care/education and no days/hours of care/education per week, resulting in this subgroup having many cells containing ‘zero’ values when combining the separate care variables. These missing cells could distort the model and produce confusing or misleading results. Thus, to allow all child care/education variables to be entered simultaneously in each model, while maintaining a model intuitive to interpret, the small group of children attending exclusive parental care was omitted from the multivariable analyses.

In the second stage of analysis only type of care/education was examined, so that all children, including the group receiving exclusive parental care, were able to be included in the model. These analyses were used to determine whether similar effects on child outcomes would be observed when this group of children were included, and also to examine the effects of attending child care/early education programs in relation to not receiving any such care/education.

In the third stage of analysis, the impact of child care/education quality on children’s pro-social and problem behaviour (mother and teacher-reported), receptive language and early literacy/numeracy was assessed, based on information provided by the child’s teacher/carer. Separate analyses were conducted for the group of children attending pre-Year 1 and the group attending preschool and long day care centres. This approach was taken because of the marked differences between pre-Year 1 and other settings on measures of teacher/carer characteristics, qualified staff-to-child ratios and approaches to learning (as noted in Chapter 7), and to allow for a more fine-grained interpretation of the results. The care/education variables included were: teachers’ education (university versus certificate/diploma), teachers’ field of study (early childhood or child care specialisation versus other areas of study such as primary education), teachers’ length of experience in years, the ratio of children to qualified staff (less than 8:1, 8 to 15:1, more than 15:1), and four measures of approaches to learning (teacher-directed whole group activities, teacher-supported small group activities, teacher-supported individual activities and child-initiated activities) and the usual amount of time spent in these on a typical day (never/occasionally, often, very often). To study the independent effects of these child care/education characteristics, models were adjusted for the effects of the same set of selected family, mother and child sociodemographic characteristics and parenting variables described above. For the preschool/long day care group, the model also accounted for the effects of program type (preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care).

Outcome measures

Measures of pro-social behaviour and behaviour problems were derived from the five subscales of the 25-item Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) (Goodman 1997). The SDQ comprises one subscale assessing pro-social behaviour (assessing the child’s propensity to be considerate and helpful to others) with higher scores indicating greater pro-social behaviour and four subscales assessing problem behaviour: peer problems (assessing the child’s ability to form positive relationships with other children), emotional symptoms (assessing the frequency of child displays of negative emotional states such as nervousness and worry), hyperactivity (assessing fidgetiness, concentration span and impulsiveness) and conduct (assessing the child’s tendency to display problem behaviours such as aggressiveness when interacting with others). All subscale items are scored on a three-point scale ranging from 1 (not true) to 3 (certainly true) and combined to yield total subscale scores. The pro-social subscale was used as the index of children’s pro-social behaviour. The four subscales assessing children’s problem behaviours were combined to create a behaviour problems score, with higher scores indicating more problems. The SDQ was completed by the study child’s mother and his or her main teacher or primary child care worker.

Children’s cognitive development was measured by direct assessment. Receptive vocabulary was assessed using an abbreviated form of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT–III, Dunn & Dunn 1997) designed for the LSAC study. This measure was administered directly to each child. For each word presented, the child is shown a card containing four pictures and asked to point to the picture corresponding to the word (for example, ‘show me wrapping’). Scaled PPVT scores were used in all analyses (further details on PPVT scaling are in Appendix B—LSAC Users Guide). Early literacy and numeracy skills were assessed by the Who Am I?, an Australian instrument assessing a child’s ability to perform a range of skills underlying school readiness, including reading, writing, copying and symbol recognition (ACER 1999). This measure was administered directly to each child. See Appendix B for details on Who Am I? scaling.

Interpreting regression tables

In the general linear models, the effect of each characteristic of interest or variable can be estimated while controlling for the effect of each other variable in the model. The overall variance explained by all variables included in the model is represented by the R2 figure. The intercept (or the constant) is the expected mean value of the outcome (Y) when X (predictor variable) equals zero.The extent to which each variable in the model contributes to the prediction of the outcome is indexed by reference to the magnitude of the parameter estimate. The direction and magnitude of effect of each variable is represented by the addition or subtraction (–) of points from the intercept.

As with the logistic regression in the previous section, predictor variables are categorical and have one category to which the others are compared. This is labeled the Reference Category (Ref.). For example, for child’s sex, if the characteristic of interest is being male, then the reference category is being female. For each category of the variable the estimate and the significance of the estimate (p) are provided, representing the mean difference in the outcome between the relevant category of the characteristic of interest and the reference category, and the significance of that difference. The lower the p value, the less likely it is that the result obtained occurred by pure chance. In the following tables significance level of p<0.05 is used, to identify significant differences in categories of predictor variables.

Results—pro-social and problem behaviour

Results are presented for mothers’ ratings of pro-social and problem behaviour for the sample of children in non-parental care/education arrangements, followed by results for teachers’ ratings for the reduced sample (limited by the rate of return for teacher questionnaires). Children’s pro-social and problem behaviours were significantly correlated, being a weak negative correlation for mothers’ ratings (r=–0.24, p<0.001) and a moderate correlation for teachers (r=–0.35, p<0.001). However, there were differences in the multivariable models predicting these outcome scores.

The relation between characteristics of child care/education and children’s pro-social and problem behaviour was assessed using general linear modelling with the strengths and difficulties pro-social behaviour score and behaviour problems score as the outcome variables and controlling for the sociodemographic and parenting variables described above. For each outcome, the results for the child care/education variables are presented first, followed by the results for the covariates. Note that for positive outcomes, higher scores indicate a better outcome, that is, more pro-social behaviour, and for negative outcomes higher scores indicate poorer outcomes, that is, more behaviour problems.

Mother-rated SDQ pro-social and problem behaviour—multivariable analysis

Pro-social behaviour

Results for pro-social behaviour are presented in Table 111, right-hand column. The resulting model had an intercept of 5.8 and accounted for 11.7 per cent of the variance in children’s scores (Table 111). None of the care/education measures were significant predictors in the overall model and these variables accounted for only 0.6 per cent of unique variance in scores. However, several differences were noted within the variable of care type. Children enrolled in any type of preschool setting or in long day care with additional care (that is, not long day care only or pre-Year 1) were rated by their mothers as having lower pro-social behaviour than children receiving non-parental care in informal settings (that is, not attending centre or school-based care/education) (–0.5 to –0.8 points). Amount of care/education received (hours per week) and age of entry to non-parental care were not significant predictors of children’s pro-social behaviour, as rated by their mothers. However, children attending two care/education arrangements each week were rated somewhat higher than children attending one arrangement (0.3 points).

In contrast to the minimal contribution of care/education variables, several sociodemographic and parenting variables made a statistically significant contribution to the explained variance for this outcome. Lower pro-social behaviour was associated with having a mother who was either younger (<25 yrs: –0.2 points) or older (>35 yrs: –0.2 points) than the majority of mothers (that is, 25 to 34 years). Lower pro-social behaviour was also predicted by higher maternal psychological distress (–0.2 points), less positive parenting behaviour (–1.2 points), lower parenting self-efficacy (–0.5 points) and being a male child (–0.4 points). The remaining sociodemographic variables (mother’s education and employment status, number of children in the household, weekly household income, child age, Indigenous status and language spoken at home) were non-significant.

To determine whether similar results would be observed if the children in exclusive parental care were included in the model, the above multivariable analysis was repeated with the reference group expanded to include all children with no current experience of centre or school-based care/education (that is, children receiving informal care/education and children in exclusive parental care). Only the child care variable of care type was included in this analysis, although the set of covariates in the model was unchanged. The results for care type were statistically significant and similar to those in Table 111. Lower pro-social behaviour was reported for children in all of the centre or school-based care/education settings compared to children not currently attending such programs (Table 112). The pattern of findings for covariates was also similar to that reported above.

Behaviour problems

Results for mother-reported behaviour problems are presented in Table 111, column 1. The resulting model had an intercept of 17.5 and accounted for 25.9 per cent of the variance in children’s scores (Table 111). None of the care/education measures was a significant predictor in the overall model and these measures accounted for only 0.6 per cent of unique variance in behaviour problem scores. However, within the variable of care/education type, a few differences were noted. Children in the preschool only groups (either in a school or not in a school) or in long day care were rated as having fewer behaviour problems (–1.6, –1.7 and –1.8 points respectively) compared to children who did not attend a school/centre-based care/education program. These differences, although indicating more positive outcomes, were small, and it is important to note that the overall care-type variable was not significant (p=0.09) in the model predicting behaviour problem scores. None of the other care/education variables showed a significant relation to children’s behaviour problems as assessed by the SDQ after controlling for other sociodemographic and parenting variables.

In contrast, a large number of the sociodemographic and parenting variables were significant predictors of children’s behaviour problems, as rated by mothers. Higher levels of behaviour problems were associated most strongly with less positive parenting behaviour (3.9 points) and with mothers who were more psychologically distressed (2.2 points). In addition, more behaviour problems were associated with lower parenting self-efficacy in the mother (1.6 points), with being a male child (1.0 points), and with maternal age, with children whose mothers were under 25 years of age having more behaviour problems (1.6 points) compared with children whose mothers were aged 25 to 34 at the time of their birth.

Variables predicting reduced levels of behaviour problems included higher levels of maternal education (–0.7, –0.9 and –1.7 points for Year 11/12, trade certificate/diploma, university, respectively), a mother being employed part-time or full-time (–0.7 and –0.6 points respectively) and an increase in household income (–0.8 to –1.8 points for weekly incomes over $1,000). An increase in child’s age was associated with a slight decrease in behaviour problems (–0.1 points per month).

Mother-rated behaviour problems were not higher in certain potentially at-risk groups—Indigenous children, children from lone-parent families, or families speaking a language other than English in the home.

To determine whether similar results would be observed if the children in exclusive parental care were included in the model, the multivariable analysis was repeated with the reference group expanded to include all children with no current centre or school-based care/education experience. Only the child care variable of care type was included in this analysis, although the set of covariates included in the model was unchanged. The results for type of care/education were different to those reported in Table 111. The addition of the children in exclusive parental care raised the level of behaviour problems in the reference group, resulting in no significant differences when comparing the ‘no centre or school-based care/education’ group with children attending the other care/education settings. However, the overall result for the type of care/education variable was significant and within this variable a few significant differences were noted. Children in the preschool only groups (either in a school or not in a school; estimates of –0.398 and –0.467) were rated as having fewer behaviour problems than children in pre-Year 1 and children in preschool with additional care/education (estimates of 0.412 and 0.437) (Table 112). The pattern of findings for covariates was similar to that reported in Table 111.

Table Description

Table 111: Effect of type, amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children receiving non-parental child care/education
Variable Mother-rated problem behaviour (n=3,612) R2=0.259 Intercept=17.47 Mother-rated pro-social behaviour (n=3,612) R2=0.117 Intercept=5.84
Estimate (p) Estimate (p)
Type of care/early education
     No centre or school-based care/education Ref Ref
     Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education –1.107 (0.192) –0.460 (0.066)
     Preschool in school only –1.648 (0.044) –0.513 (0.041)
     Preschool in school with other care/education –1.159 (0.192) –0.812 (0.003)
     Preschool not in a school only –1.746 (0.033) –0.598 (0.022)
     Preschool not in a school with other care/education –1.459 (0.108) –0.825 (0.002)
     Long day care centre only –1.452 (0.069) –0.395 (0.114)
     Long day care centre with other care/education –1.834 (0.045) –0.661 (0.013)
Hours per week of care/education
     1 to 8 Ref Ref
     9 to 20 –0.241 (0.536) –0.016 (0.903)
     21 to 30 –0.118 (0.781) 0.027 (0.861)
     31 to 40 –0.128 (0.784) 0.063 (0.698)
     >40 0.665 (0.195) –0.157 (0.413)
Number of regular care/education arrangements per week
     1 Ref Ref
     2 –0.191 (0.594) 0.313 (0.039)
     >2 –0.270 (0.547) 0.279 (0.160)
Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (years)
     <1 Ref Ref
     1 to <2 –0.147 (0.461) –0.073 (0.312)
     2 to <3 –0.424 (0.072) –0.112 (0.239)
     3 to <4 –0.291 (0.202) 0.051 (0.557)
     4 and over –0.328 (0.228) 0.123 (0.151)
Maternal characteristics
Mother’s age at birth of child (years)
     <25 1.586 (0.000) –0.198 (0.019)
     25 to 34 Ref Ref
     35 and over –0.070 (0.731) –0.239 (0.001)
Mother’s education
     Year 10 or less Ref Ref
     Year 11 or 12 –0.693 (0.019) –0.015 (0.877)
     Trade certificate or diploma –0.856 (0.002) 0.135 (0.143)
     University –1.730 (0.000) 0.138 (0.157)
Mother’s employment status
     Full time –0.639 (0.020) 0.070 (0.493)
     Part time –0.676 (0.000) –0.041 (0.537)
     Not working Ref Ref
Mother’s psychological distress
     Normal range (low) Ref Ref
     Clinically significant distress (high) 2.159 (0.000) –0.232 (0.003)
Mother’s parenting self-efficacy
     Lower 1.609 (0.002) –0.515 (0.007)
     Higher Ref Ref
Mother’s positive parenting behaviour
     Lower 3.941 (0.000) –1.171 (0.000)
     Higher Ref Ref
Family characteristics
Number of children in the household
     1 Ref Ref
     2 –0.221 (0.382) –0.074 (0.445)
     3 –0.486 (0.072) –0.162 (0.106)
     4 or more –0.667 (0.052) –0.241 (0.052)
Weekly household income ($)
     Less than 600 Ref Ref
     600 to 999 –0.452 (0.118) 0.032 (0.758)
     1,000 to 1,499 –0.811 (0.009) –0.014 (0.900)
     1,500 to 1,999 –1.133 (0.001) 0.017 (0.881)
     More than 2,000 –1.796 (0.000) 0.158 (0.196)
Study child characteristics and subgroups
Child’s sex
     Male 1.048 (0.000) –0.446 (0.000)
    Female Ref Ref
Child’s age (continuous variable)
     Age –0.080 (0.009) 0.008 (0.453)
Indigenous status
     Non-Indigenous Ref Ref
     Indigenous 0.801 (0.075) 0.012 (0.933)
Family type
     Lone parent 0.183 (0.559) –0.019 (0.865)
     Couple Ref Ref
Language spoken at home
     English only Ref Ref
     Other language 0.281 (0.174) 0.054 (0.494)

Table Description

Table 112: Effect of type of current care/early education on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—all children
Variable Mother-rated problem behaviour (n=3,741) R2=0.260 Intercept=17.91 Mother-rated pro-social behaviour (n=3,741) R2=0.110 Intercept=5.60
Estimate (p) Estimate (p)
Type of care/early education
     No centre or school-based care/education Ref Ref
     Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education 0.412 (0.387) –0.299 (0.041)
     Preschool in school only –0.398 (0.369) –0.450 (0.001)
     Preschool in school with other care/education 0.437 (0.366) –0.486 (0.001)
     Preschool not in a school only –0.467 (0.318) –0.552 (0.000)
     Preschool not in a school with other care/education 0.144 (0.766) –0.509 (0.000)
     Long day care centre only –0.071 (0.881) –0.362 (0.011)
     Long day care centre with other care/education –0.111 (0.821) –0.353 (0.019)

Teacher/carer-rated SDQ pro-social and problem behaviour—multivariable analysis

Note that the analyses based on teachers’/carers’ ratings of children’s behaviour were restricted to children attending centre or school-based care/education programs whose teachers/carers returned their questionnaires.

Pro-social behaviour

Results for teacher/carer-rated pro-social behaviour are presented in Table 113, right-hand column. The resulting model had an intercept of 4.3 and accounted for 11.2 per cent of the variance in children’s scores (Table 113).

The child care/education variables were somewhat stronger predictors of teacher/carer-rated than mother-rated pro-social behaviour, accounting for 2.1 per cent of unique variance in scores. Results for type of care/education (using pre-Year 1 as the reference category) suggested that children in long day care centres had higher pro-social behaviour (0.7 points for long day care only and 1.2 points for long day care with additional care/education) than children in pre-Year 1 settings. The results for children in preschool settings were more mixed, being significantly higher for children attending preschool with other care/education arrangements (0.6), but not different for children attending preschool only or preschool in a school with other care/education arrangements. It is unclear whether this result is due to characteristics of the children, or their care/education experiences (for example, greater exposure to children of different ages in long day care), or to biases in reporting due to the differing expectations held by teachers in long day care versus teachers in pre-Year 1 and preschool settings.

Of the other care/education measures, only stability was a significant predictor. Children in more than two care arrangements had lower pro-social behaviour (–0.4 to –0.7 points) than children in only one care arrangement. Hours of care per week and age of entry to first care were not associated with differences in pro-social behaviour.

Results for the other covariates were similar to those reported for the model predicting mother-reported pro-social behaviour scores for most of the family sociodemographic and parenting characteristics. Differences were noted for: mothers’ education—teachers’ ratings of children’s pro-social behaviour were higher when mothers were university educated; number of children in the household—teachers’ ratings were higher for children in larger families; child age—teachers’ ratings were higher for older children; Indigenous status—teachers rated Indigenous children as having lower pro-social behaviour than non-Indigenous children. In addition, teachers’ ratings were not associated with mothers’ parenting self-efficacy.

Behaviour problems

The resulting model had an intercept of 24.1 and accounted for 10.8 per cent of the variance in children’s scores (Table 113, column 1). The care/education variables accounted for 1.4 per cent of unique variance in behaviour problem scores. Two child care/education variables were significantly associated with teacher/carer-rated behaviour problems. Compared to children attending pre-Year 1, children attending preschool in a school, preschool not in a school with other care, or long day care with other care had fewer behaviour problems (–1.0, –2.1 and –2.0 points, respectively). As with the findings for ratings of pro-social behaviour, it is unclear whether this result is due to characteristics of the children or to biases in reporting due to the differing expectations held by teachers in pre-Year 1 versus teachers/carers in long day care and preschool settings.

In relation to other aspects of children’s attendance at care/education settings, only the number of settings attended each week achieved significance. Behaviour problems were higher when children attended more settings: 2 settings=1.1 points; 3 or more settings=1.7 points. Hours of care/education attended per week and age of entering care were not associated with teacher/carer-rated behaviour problems.

As with the results for teacher/carer-rated pro-social outcomes, there were many sociodemographic and parenting variables that were statistically significant predictors. For the most part, the results for these covariates were similar to those reported above for mother-reported behaviour problem scores, except that: mothers’ parenting self-efficacy and families’ household income were not significant predictors of teachers’ ratings of children’s pro-social or problem behaviour; an increased number of children in the household was associated with an increase in ratings for pro-social behaviour and behaviour problems; and Indigenous status was associated with lower ratings for pro-social behaviour and higher ratings for behaviour problems.

Table Description

Table 113: Effect of type, amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care on teacher/carer-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in centre or school-based child care/education
Variable Teacher/carer-rated problem behaviour (n=2,506) R2=0.108 Intercept=24.14 Teacher/carer-rated pro-social behaviour (n=2,507) R2=0.112 Intercept=4.30
Estimate (p) Estimate (p)
Type of care/early education
     Pre-Year 1 only or with other care/education Ref Ref
     Preschool in school only –0.999 (0.019) 0.265 (0.204)
     Preschool in school with other care/education –1.001 (0.084) 0.137 (0.564)
     Preschool not in a school only –0.707 (0.106) 0.242 (0.228)
     Preschool not in a school with other care/education –2.087 (0.000) 0.589 (0.012)
     Long day care centre only –0.382 (0.367) 0.726 (0.000)
     Long day care centre with other care/education –1.978 (0.000) 1.188 (0.000)
Hours per week of care/education
     1 to 8 Ref Ref
     9 to 20 0.260 (0.619) 0.170 (0.497)
     21 to 30 0.602 (0.273) 0.022 (0.933)
     31 to 40 0.371 (0.554) 0.280 (0.318)
     >40 –0.011 (0.989) 0.341 (0.285)
Number of regular care/education arrangements per week
     1 Ref Ref
     2 1.148 (0.019) –0.394 (0.054)
     >2 1.688 (0.005) –0.689 (0.007)
Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (years)
     <1 Ref Ref
     1 to <2 0.039 (0.891) –0.005 (0.970)
     2 to <3 0.210 (0.541) –0.070 (0.627)
     3 to <4 0.292 (0.362) –0.159 (0.281)
     4 and over 0.300 (0.393) –0.080 (0.586)
Maternal characteristics
Mother’s age at birth of child (years)
     <25 0.508 (0.119) –0.202 (0.183)
     25 to 34 Ref Ref
     35+ 0.650 (0.009) –0.357 (0.002)
Mother’s education
     Year 10 or less Ref Ref
     Year 11 or 12 –0.672 (0.068) 0.150 (0.319)
     Trade certificate or diploma –0.793 (0.023) 0.199 (0.181)
     University –1.155 (0.001) 0.337 (0.027)
Mother’s employment status
     Full-time 0.409 (0.261) –0.030 (0.856)
     Part-time –0.694 (0.008) 0.178 (0.115)
     Not working Ref Ref
Mother’s psychological distress
     Normal range (low) Ref Ref
     Clinically significant distress (high) 0.862 (0.003) –0.336 (0.011)
Mother’s parenting self-efficacy
     Lower 0.416 (0.527) –0.177 (0.520)
     Higher Ref Ref
Mother’s parenting behaviour
     Lower 1.041 (0.001) –0.424 (0.000)
     Higher Ref Ref
Family characteristics
Number of children in the household
     1 Ref Ref
     2 –0.914 (0.011) 0.398 (0.027)
     3 –1.020 (0.007) 0.350 (0.064)
     4 or more –1.223 (0.004) 0.571 (0.007)
Weekly household income ($)
     Less than 600 Ref Ref
     600 to 999 0.151 (0.668) –0.123 (0.456)
     1,000 to 1,499 0.250 (0.527) –0.056 (0.742)
     1,500 to 1,999 –0.230 (0.559) 0.038 (0.830)
     More than 2,000 –0.415 (0.296) 0.115 (0.555)
Child characteristics and subgroups
Child’s sex
     Male 2.113 (0.000) –1.085 (0.000)
     Female Ref Ref
Child’s age (continuous variable)
     Age –0.100 (0.012) 0.052 (0.006)
Indigenous status Ref Ref
     Non-Indigenous Ref Ref
     Indigenous 1.671 (0.041) –0.855 (0.003)
Family type
     Lone parent 0.713 (0.069) –0.178 (0.286)
     Couple Ref Ref
Language spoken at home
     English only Ref Ref
     Other language –0.218 (0.469) –0.220 (0.063)

Results—cognitive outcomes

Receptive vocabulary

The relation between characteristics of child care/early education and children’s receptive vocabulary was assessed using general linear modelling with PPVT raw scores as the outcome variable and controlling for the full range of sociodemographic and parenting variables. The resulting model had an intercept of 33.2 and accounted for 18.8 per cent of the variance in children’s receptive vocabulary scores (Table 114).

Two child care/early education variables were significant predictors in the model, however, all the care/education variables together accounted for only 1.4 per cent of unique variance in PPVT scores. The association between type of care/education and children’s receptive vocabulary was significant, but the choice of reference category (‘no centre or school-based care/education program’) did not allow significant differences between groups to be seen. Therefore, we repeated the analysis again with ‘long day care with other care’ as the reference category, since this was the only category with a negative coefficient. The results indicated that in comparison to this group, the care types of pre-Year 1 (only or with other care), preschool in a school (only), preschool not in a school (only), or long day care (only) were associated with statistically significant increases in the PPVT scores (2.5, 1.9, 1.6 and 1.4 points, respectively). Where children were in mixed care/education arrangements, that is, preschool in a school (with other care) and preschool not in a school (with other care), PPVT scores did not differ significantly from children in long day care with other forms of care. Overall, these results suggest that there is more similarity than difference in language outcomes for children attending school, preschool and long day care settings. Rather, it is additional other care arrangements that negatively affect outcomes.

The findings for type of care/education were supported by results showing that an increase in hours spent in non-parental care/education settings was associated with a decrease in PPVT scores, specifically for the two categories for longest hours. Receptive vocabulary scores were reduced by 1.8 points for children receiving 31 to 40 hours per week of non-parental care/education and by 3.0 points for children receiving more than 40 hours per week.

Age of entry to care/education was a significant predictor of language outcomes, but only for the oldest age group. Children who started care/education at age 4 years of older had slightly lower scores (–0.9). The number of care/education settings attended per week was not significantly associated with language outcomes, after accounting for the effects of all other variables in the model.

Many sociodemographic and parenting variables were statistically significant in predicting children’s PPVT scores. The predictors of lower receptive vocabulary, from the strongest to weaker, were: being from a family speaking a language other than English in the home (–4.0 points); having more than two children in the household (3 children: –2.1 points, 4+ children: –3.2 points); being male (–1.3 points); and when the mother was younger than 25 years (–1.4 points) or reported more psychological distress (–1.7 points) or lower positive parenting behaviour (–1.3 points). The predictors of higher receptive vocabulary scores were: having a family income higher than $600 per week (range=1.3 to 2.4 points as income increased from $600–$999 to over $2,000 per week); mothers’ having higher than a Year 10 education (range=1.1 to 2.9 points as education increased from Year 11/12 to university); and children being older at the time of testing. Child’s Indigenous status and being from a lone-parent family were not significantly related to children’s receptive vocabulary scores in the multivariable model.

In order to determine whether similar results would be observed if the children in exclusive parental care were included in the model, the multivariable analysis was repeated with the reference group expanded to include all children with no current experience of centre or school-based care/education, that is, including children in exclusive parental care. Only the type of care/education was tested in this analysis, although the set of covariates included in the model was unchanged. The results for care type were statistically significant and followed a pattern similar to those reported in Table 114; however, stronger differences between with no centre or school-based care/education and children attending pre-Year 1 or preschool programs (only or with other care/education) were noted. Children attending these settings had higher scores on the PPVT than children not attending such programs: range=1.4 to 2.3 points (Table 115). On the other hand, language outcomes for children attending long day care centres (only or with other care/education) were not significantly different from language outcomes for children not attending centre or school-based programs. In this model, the pattern of findings for covariates was similar to that reported in the initial multivariable analysis (Table 114).

Early literacy and numeracy

The relation between characteristics of child care/early education and children’s literacy and numeracy skills was assessed using general linear modelling with Who Am I? scores as the outcome variable and controlling for the full range of sociodemographic and parenting variables. The resulting model had an intercept of 25.4 and accounted for 26.7 per cent of the variance in children’s school readiness scores (Table 114).

Care/education variables accounted for 4.1 per cent of unique variance in Who Am I? outcome scores. Of these, type of care/education, amount of weekly hours of care/education and age of entry into first non-parental care setting were significant predictors. Compared to the reference category of no centre or school-based care/education, attendance at pre-Year 1 was associated with a relatively large increase in Who Am I? scores (3.7 points). This finding is not unexpected, given the focus on explicit teaching of literacy and numeracy in pre-Year 1 at school. We noted, however, that using the no centre or school-based care/education group as the reference category did not allow for the effects of different care types to be explored. Consequently, the analysis was repeated with the reference category changed to pre-Year 1 with or without other care. The results indicated that every other care/education category was associated with a lower Who Am I? score: the point differences ranged from –3.7 to –5.4.

The overall association of hours in care with Who Am I? scores was not significant, but there were some differences between the groups. Compared to one to eight hours in care per week, the categories of 9 to 20 and 21 to 30 hours were associated with slightly higher Who Am I? scores (1.3 and 1.2 points, respectively).

Age of entry into first non-parental care setting was a significant predictor of Who Am I? scores, although findings were difficult to interpret. Children who first entered non-parental care/education between 2 and 3 years of age had lower Who Am I? scores (–1.3 points) relative to children entering prior to 1 year of age. Similarly, slightly lower scores were found for children first entering care/education between 3 and 4 years of age; however, the difference for this group did not reach statistical significance (–0.6 points, p=0.06). In other words, children who started care before age 1 year had higher scores on the Who Am I? relative to children who started care between 2 to 4 years. A possible explanation for these results may be drawn from findings reported for the infant cohort, which showed that families who were using non-parental care were more likely to be more economically advantaged (that is, mothers were employed, weekly income was higher, fewer children in the family). These factors, along with the greater stimulation that may be associated with longer exposure to child care/education settings, may account for the observed differences for age of entry to care.

There were many sociodemographic and parenting variables that were statistically significant in predicting children’s Who Am I? scores. In general, lower literacy/numeracy scores were associated most strongly with being a male child (–4.4 points), with being of Indigenous status (–1.6 points), with being from a lone-parent family (–1.2 points) and with having more than two children in the household (three children: –0.8 points; four or more children: –1.3 points). In contrast, higher scores were associated with higher levels of maternal education (range=1.2 to 2.6 points) and speaking a language other than English at home (1.6 points). The latter result may be due to the relatively high rate of attendance of LOTE children attending pre-Year 1 programs.

In order to determine whether similar results would be observed if the children in exclusive parental care were included in the model, the initial multivariable analysis was repeated with the reference group expanded to include all children, that is, including children receiving exclusive parental care. Only the type of care/education was included in this analysis, although the set of covariates included in the model was unchanged. The results for care type were statistically significant, although some differences in the pattern of results were noted as a result of the lower Who Am I? scores for the reference group with the addition of the children in exclusive parental care. Children in pre-Year 1 programs still had the highest Who Am I? scores compared to children with no current experience in centre or school-based care/education programs. In addition, Who Am I? scores for all other care/education groups were higher than the reference group. Effects were larger for children attending preschool in school (only and with other care) and long day care only (estimates: 1.135, 1.239, 1.157, respectively) and even achieved a trend level of significance (ps<0.10) (Table 115). Outcomes for children attending the other care types (preschool not in a school, with or without additional care, and long day care with other care) were similar to Who Am I? scores received by children not attending school or centre-based care/education. The pattern of findings for covariates was similar to that reported in the initial multivariable analysis in Table 114.

Table Description

Table 114: Effect of type, amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—children receiving non-parental care/education
Variable Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (n=3,248) R2=0.188 Intercept=33.163 Who am I? test of literacy/numeracy (n=3,569) R2=0.267 Intercept=25.440
Estimate (p) Estimate (p)
Type of care/early education
     No centre or school-based care/education program Ref Ref
     Pre-Year 1 only or with other care 1.999 (0.104) 3.652 (0.003)
     Preschool in school only 1.381 (0.267) –0.427 (0.719)
     Preschool in school with other care/education 0.459 (0.725) –0.804 (0.535)
     Preschool not in a school only 1.058 (0.390) –0.540 (0.647)
     Preschool not in a school with other care/education 0.262 (0.833) –1.891 (0.153)
     Long day care centre only 0.658 (0.589) –0.223 (0.849)
     Long day care centre with other care/education –0.502 (0.699) –1.383 (0.295)
Hours per week of care/education
     1 to 8 Ref Ref
     9 to 20 –0.726 (0.224) 1.252 (0.020)
     21 to 30 –1.166 (0.069) 1.168 (0.048)
     31 to 40 –1.847 (0.006) 1.045 (0.096)
     >40 –3.030 (0.000) 1.042 (0.173)
Number of regular care/education arrangements per week
     1 Ref Ref
     2 0.867 (0.126) 0.393 (0.430)
     >2 0.276 (0.678) 0.750 (0.227)
Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (years)
     <1 Ref Ref
     1 to <2 –0.544 (0.099) –0.257 (0.396)
     2 to <3 –0.670 (0.060) –1.268 (0.000)
     3 to <4 –0.014 (0.969) –0.596 (0.063)
     4 years and over –0.868 (0.028) –0.476 (0.144)
Maternal characteristics
Mother’s age at birth of child (years)
     <25 –1.388 (0.000) –0.500 (0.125)
     25 to 34 Ref Ref
     35+ 0.325 (0.238) 0.047 (0.856)
Mother’s education
     Year 10 or less Ref Ref
     Year 11 or 12 1.096 (0.005) 1.232 (0.001)
     Trade certificate or diploma 1.450 (0.000) 1.745 (0.000)
     University 2.914 (0.000) 2.579 (0.000)
Mother’s employment status
     Full-time 0.215 (0.595) 0.146 (0.730)
     Part-time 0.220 (0.430) 0.282 (0.294)
     Not working Ref Ref
Mother’s psychological distress
     Normal range (low) Ref Ref
     Clinically significant distress (high) –1.656 (0.000) –0.010 (0.972)
Mother’s parenting self-efficacy
     Lower 0.503 (0.451) –1.123 (0.095)
     Higher Ref Ref
Mother’s positive parenting behaviour
     Lower –1.333 (0.000) –0.691 (0.021)
     Higher Ref Ref
Family characteristics
Number of children in the household
     1 Ref Ref
     2 –0.624 (0.112) –0.348 (0.362)
     3 –2.126 (0.000) –0.843 (0.052)
     4 or more –3.203 (0.000) –1.329 (0.005)
Weekly household income ($)
     Less than 600 Ref Ref
     600 to 999 1.256 (0.008) –0.505 (0.246)
     1,000 to 1,499 1.808 (0.001) 0.148 (0.747)
     1,500 to 1,999 2.160 (0.000) 0.493 (0.326)
     More than 2,000 2.448 (0.000) 0.351 (0.483)
Child characteristics and subgroups
Child’s sex
     Male –1.262 (0.000) –4.449 (0.000)
     Female Ref Ref
Child’s age (continuous variable)
     Age 0.414 (0.000) 0.713 (0.000)
Indigenous status
     Non-Indigenous Ref Ref
     Indigenous –0.692 (0.365) –1.557 (0.005)
Family type
     Lone parent –0.252 (0.598) –1.170 (0.004)
     Couple family Ref Ref
Language spoken at home
     English only Ref Ref
     Other language –4.040 (0.000) 1.626 (0.000)

Table Description

Table 115: Effect of type of current care/early education on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—all children
Variable Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (n=3,355) R2=0.194 Intercept=35.899 Who am I? test of literacy/numeracy (n=3,696) R2=0.271 Intercept=25.471
Estimate (p) Estimate (p)
Type of care/early education
     No centre or school-based care/education Ref Ref
     Pre-Year 1 only or with other care 2.289 (0.000) 5.362 (0.000)
     Preschool in school only 2.049 (0.001) 1.135 (0.064)
     Preschool in school with other care/education 1.473 (0.019) 1.239 (0.056)
     Preschool not in a school only 1.859 (0.002) 0.977 (0.106)
     Preschool not in a school with other care/education 1.440 (0.016) 0.202 (0.765)
     Long day care centre only 1.138 (0.064) 1.157 (0.065)
     Long day care centre with other care/education 0.198 (0.766) 0.610 (0.368)

Results—quality of care/early education

The final regression analyses examined child outcomes in relation to characteristics of the education program attended by the study child. These data were provided by teachers/carers and therefore the sample size is restricted to the sample of children attending centre or school-based care/education settings whose teachers/carers returned their questionnaires. Models were tested separately for children in pre-Year 1 and preschool/long day care.

The relation between eight indices of care/education quality and each of the six child outcome variables was assessed using general linear modelling and controlling for the full range of sociodemographic and parenting variables. Quality of care/education indices included education level of the teacher (university versus less than university), teachers’ field of study (early childhood education and care versus other), teachers’ years of experience, ratio of qualified staff to children in the room and levels of provision of four approaches to learning (teacher-directed whole group activities, teacher-supported small group activities, teacher-supported individual activities and child-initiated activities). In additional, the type of program (preschool in school, preschool not in a school, long day care centre) was included as a control variable for analyses testing outcomes for children attending preschool/long day care.

Overall, effects were larger and more significant for the subgroup of pre-Year 1 children and smaller for children in preschool/long day care settings. In general, however, where effects were observed, they were in the expected direction; that is, indicators of higher quality were associated with more positive outcomes for children. Setting differences were noted in relation to the approaches to learning taken in the classroom, with the pattern of results being consistent with pre-Year 1 and school-based preschool having a more structured approach than preschools not in school and long day care.

Mother-rated SDQ pro-social and problem behaviour

For pre-Year 1, 4.4 per cent of the variance of mother-reported pro-social behaviour was uniquely accounted for by the block of variables measuring classroom quality (relative to the 24.3 per cent predicted by the entire model). Statistically significant effects were observed for three predictors (Table 116, right-hand column). Pro-social behaviour was higher when the ratio of qualified staff to children was lower (0.4 to 0.7 points) and less time was spent in child-initiated activities (–0.6 points). Teacher experience was also associated with pro-social behaviour, as perceived by mothers. Ratings improved when teachers had less experience in early childhood, which is perhaps due to their being younger and more recently trained.

The pattern for mother-reported behaviour problems was somewhat similar, with 4.5 per cent of the variance uniquely accounted for (relative to the 38.4 per cent predicted by the entire model). Problem behaviour was higher when teachers were not university qualified (1.5 points) and when more time was spent in child-initiated activities (1.1 points). The ratio of qualified staff to children was a strong predictor, with lower ratios resulting in lower ratings for problem behaviour (–2.7 and –1.8 points) (Table 116, column 1).

Weaker effects were noted for the larger group of children who had not yet entered pre-Year 1. Only 1.7 per cent of the variance of mother-reported pro-social behaviour (relative to the 15.7 per cent predicted by the entire model) and 0.6 per cent of mother-rated behaviour problems (relative to 29.6 per cent for the entire model) were uniquely accounted for by the block of variables measuring the quality of a child’s preschool or long day care setting. Significant effects for pro-social behaviour were: teachers holding a university qualification (0.2 point increase); lower qualified staff to child ratios (0.1 to 0.4 point increase); and more frequent provision of teacher-supported small group activities (0.1 to 0.3 point increase). Mother-reported behaviour problems were only related to one of the quality indices: more frequent provision of teacher-supported individual activities (0.7 to 0.9 point increase).

Table Description

Table 116: Effect of quality of current care/early education on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in pre-Year 1 classes only
Variable Mother-rated problem behaviour (n=386) R2=0.384 Intercept=20.341 Mother-rated pro-social behaviour (n=386) R2=0.233 Intercept=7.779
Estimate (p) Estimate (p)
Education level of teacher/carer
     University qualification Ref Ref
     Diploma/certificate or less 1.511 (0.031) –0.106 (0.593)
Field of study
     Early childhood education/child care Ref Ref
     Other (including primary education) –0.095 (0.876) 0.127 (0.463)
Number of years experience in early childhood 0.022 (0.397) –0.021 (0.042)
Ratio of qualified staff to children
     1:<8 –2.658 (0.001) 0.725 (0.040)
     1:8–15 –1.752 (0.003) 0.431 (0.052)
     1:>15 Ref Ref
Level of teacher-directed large group activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often –0.848 (0.442) 0.278 (0.315)
     Very often –0.471 (0.695) 0.456 (0.089)
Level of teacher-supported small group activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often –0.011 (0.987) 0.174 (0.597)
     Very often 0.357 (0.767) –0.120 (0.727)
Level of teacher-supported individual activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often –0.592 (0.409) –0.123 (0.556)
     Very often –1.289 (0.131) 0.002 (0.993)
Level of child-initiated activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often 1.118 (0.037) –0.604 (0.003)
     Very often 0.395 (0.572) –0.475 (0.090)

Teacher-rated SDQ pro-social and problem behaviour

For pre-Year 1, 3.3 per cent of the variance of teacher-reported pro-social behaviour was uniquely accounted for by the block of variables measuring the quality of the classroom setting (relative to the 21.8 per cent predicted by the entire model); however, only one predictor achieved statistical significance. Pro-social behaviour was higher in classrooms that had better qualified staff to child ratios (0.6 points) (Table 117, column 2). A similar finding was observed for teacher-reported behaviour problems: 4.6 per cent of the variance was uniquely accounted for by the block of variables measuring the quality of the classroom setting (relative to the 21.8 per cent predicted by the entire model) and behaviour problems were lower when the qualified staff to child ratio was lower (1.6 to 2.6 points) (Table 117, column 1).

For children attending preschool and long day care, quality variables uniquely predicted only 1.3 per cent of the variance of teacher-reported pro-social behaviour (entire model: 11.9 per cent) and 0.8 per cent of the variance of teacher-reported behaviour problems (entire model: 11.2 per cent). After accounting for the effects of type of setting (preschool in a school, preschool not in a school and long day care) and other predictors, there were no significant effects of quality on teachers’ ratings of child pro-social behaviour. Behaviour problems, on the other hand were uniquely predicted by teachers’ years of experience, with more experienced teachers reporting fewer behaviour problems (0.03 points).

Table Description

Table 117: Effect of quality of current care/early education on teacher/carer-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in pre-Year 1 classes only
Variable Teacher/carer-rated problem behaviour (n=386) R2=0.180 Intercept=20.341 Teacher/carer-rated pro-social behaviour (n=379) R2=0.218 Intercept=13.017
Estimate (p) Estimate (p)
Education level of teacher/carer
     University qualification Ref Ref
     Diploma/certificate or less 0.775 (0.204) –0.203 (0.500)
Field of study
     Early childhood education/child care Ref Ref
     Other (including primary education) 0.609 (0.281) 0.169 (0.533)
Number of years experience in early childhood 0.007 (0.847) –0.011 (0.987)
Ratio of qualified staff to children
     1:<8 –2.624 (0.043) 0.365 (0.430)
     1:8–15 –1.644 (0.011) 0.566 (0.044)
     1:>15 Ref Ref
Level of teacher-directed large group activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often – 0.856 (0.442) –0.060 (0.831)
     Very often 0.965 (0.407) –0.144 (0.711)
Level of teacher-supported small group activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often –0.522 (0.669) 0.686 (0.073)
     Very often –1.306 (0.320) 0.761 (0.073)
Level of teacher-supported individual activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often –0.011 (0.987) 0.280 (0.294)
     Very often –1.138 (0.206) 0.549 (0.086)
Level of child-initiated activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often 0.745 (0.213) –0.443 (0.121)
     Very often 0.320 (0.716) –0.012 (0.973)

Cognitive outcomes

Results for the cognitive outcomes also differed for children in pre-Year 1 and preschool/long day care settings in terms of magnitude and the variables that were significant predictors.

For pre-Year 1, 4.1 per cent of the variance of children’s receptive vocabulary (PPVT) scores was uniquely accounted for by the block of variables measuring classroom quality (relative to the 31.5 per cent predicted by the entire model). Statistically significant effects were observed for two predictors (Table 118, column 1). Receptive vocabulary was higher when teachers held a qualification in early childhood (2.2 points) and when classrooms had a lower ratio of qualified staff to children (2.3 points).

Pre-Year 1 results for the Who Am I? also explained a sizable amount of variance (5.3 per cent for quality; entire model: 30.1 per cent) but with a different pattern of predictors (Table 118, column 2). Approaches to learning made the primary contribution: higher levels of teacher-supported small group activities were associated with increases in Who Am I? scores (2.5 to 3.6 points), whereas higher levels of child initiated activities were associated with decreased scores (–1.8 to –4.3 points).

For children attending preschool and long day care settings, very small effects were observed for quality. The total block of quality-related measures uniquely accounted for only 0.6 per cent of the variance for receptive vocabulary (entire model: 18.6 per cent) and for only 0.8 per cent of the variance for the Who Am I? (entire model: 19.2 per cent). None of the indices of quality was a significant predictor for the PPVT. For the Who Am I?, a higher frequency of teacher-directed whole group activities was associated with higher scores (0.7 to 0.9 points).

Table Description

Table 118: Effect of quality of current care/early education on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—children in pre-Year 1 classes only
Variable Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (n=370) R2=0.315 Intercept=20.282 Who am I? test of literacy/numeracy (n=384) R2=0.301 Intercept=13.089
Estimate (p) Estimate (p)
Education level of teacher/carer
     University qualification Ref Ref
     Diploma/certificate or less –1.122 (0.271) 0.101 (0.907)
Field of study
     Early childhood education/child care Ref Ref
     Other (including primary education) –2.231 (0.020) 0.457 (0.571)
Number of years experience in early childhood 0.016 (0.721) –0.056 (0.172)
Ratio of qualified staff to children
     1:<8 –0.180 (0.906) 0.739 (0.710)
     1:8–15 2.319 (0.033) –1.215 (0.237)
     1:>15 Ref Ref
Level of teacher-directed large group activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often 1.746 (0.156) 0.523 (0.617)
     Very often 2.377 (0.073) 0.448 (0.728)
Level of teacher-supported small group activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often –0.243 (0.871) 2.511 (0.031)
     Very often –0.116 (0.952) 3.648 (0.015)
Level of teacher-supported individual activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often –1.390 (0.197) 0.868 (0.426)
     Very often –2.076 (0.223) 1.945 (0.140)
Level of child-initiated activities
     None/occasionally Ref Ref
     Often 1.907 (0.126) –1.750 (0.048)
     Very often 1.374 (0.324) –4.285 (0.001)

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8.5 Child outcomes—summary and discussion

Some relations were observed between children’s experiences in early childhood care and early education settings and their developmental outcomes, as assessed by measures of pro-social and problem behaviour, receptive vocabulary, and early literacy and numeracy skills. However, the specific findings varied considerably with the different outcomes assessed, and in all analyses the combined contribution of maternal, family and child sociodemographic variables and parenting measures was much more strongly predictive of child outcomes than any individual or combined set of child care/early education variables.

Overall, based on analyses conducted on the full sample, none of the care/education measures (type of care/education arrangement, hours in care/education, number of current care/education arrangements and age of entry into first care/education arrangement) was a significant predictor of mother-reported pro-social behaviour or behaviour problems. This lack of association may be due to mothers’ ratings being based on child behaviour in settings other than school, preschool or child care. However, analyses conducted on a subgroup of children, for whom quality indices for their main care/education were available, identified significant predictors. In particular, children who attended centres with lower ratios of qualified staff to children were seen by their mothers as being more socially competent.

Teacher/carer-reported indices of children’s social competence, on the other hand, were predicted by families’ decisions about their child’s early education and care (care type and multiplicity of arrangements) as well as by the quality of the program. With respect to care type, children with higher teacher-reported pro-social behaviour were more likely to attend either long day care centres only or with other care, and preschool not in a school with other care, than pre-Year 1 or preschool in a school. Furthermore, children in preschool in a school, preschool not in a school with other care and long day care with other care were rated by teachers as having fewer behaviour problems when compared to children in pre-Year 1. The interpretation of these findings is unclear, since they could be the result of differences in children’s experiences or differences in the expectations of teachers, which may also reflect the demands for social functioning placed on children in these different care/education settings. Particularly with respect to behaviour problem outcomes, teachers in pre-Year 1 school programs may have higher expectations for the social behaviour of children in their classrooms, and these more structured school settings may place higher demands on the social adaptive functioning of children than less structured preschool and long day care settings.

Less stability of care/education as indexed by attendance at two or more arrangements per week was associated with lower pro-social behaviour and higher problem behaviours as rated by their teachers/carers. Children may find adjustment to the social demands of care/education settings more difficult when they have to adapt to multiple groups of peers and different teachers and carers on a regular basis. Increases in the number of peers and teachers/carers encountered each week may result in an overall less predictable care environment that could act to stress children’s social adaptive skills.

Social outcomes, as rated by teachers, were minimally related to classroom quality; however, where effects were observed a key index was the ratio of qualified staff to children, with better ratios in pre-Year 1 being linked to lower problem behaviours. In preschool and long day care settings, behaviour problems were reduced when teachers/carers had more years of experience.

The child care/early education factors that predicted children’s receptive vocabulary and early literacy/numeracy outcomes were different from those associated with the development of the children’s social skills. In relation to type of early childhood setting, children attending pre-Year 1 at school or preschool/long day care without additional care achieved higher receptive vocabulary scores than children who attended long day care with other care. Children who had entered a pre-Year 1 program had higher literacy and numeracy skills, but this is to be expected as these settings include the direct teaching of English and mathematics. Added to this is the finding that a greater focus on teacher-supported small group activities in pre-Year 1 made a significant contribution to children’s achievement in literacy and numeracy; whereas children who attended pre-Year 1 classrooms with more child-initiated activities had lower scores on this outcome.

Children’s receptive vocabulary and literacy/numeracy outcomes were also predicted by the number of hours children spent in care/education each week, independently of the type of care/education they attended. Children who spent moderate hours in the setting (9 to 30 hours per week) had better Who Am I? scores than children who spent only short hours (1 to 8 hours per week), indicating that there may be a minimum level of exposure necessary to get the benefits of attendance at these group settings. However, there was also data to indicate that benefits of attendance did not simply increase the longer children attended care/education. Children who attended long hours of care/education each week (30 to 40 hours per week or more than 40 hours per week) had poorer receptive vocabulary than children who attended fewer hours each week. Moderate hours of care/education may provide children with a level of stimulation appropriately matched to their attention and learning skills, while very long hours may simply overtax the adaptive capacities of these young children.

Finally, for the children attending preschool and long day care, relations between cognitive outcomes and indices of quality suggested that early literacy and numeracy skills were higher in programs that often provided teacher-directed activities. This finding warrants further investigation using direct observational measures of program quality which were not possible to include in the LSAC design.

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9. Overview

9.1 Introduction

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) provides the first opportunity to profile infant and childhood experiences of non-parental child care and early childhood education on a national level. In the period preceding and accompanying the preparation of this paper, no less than 10 reports or policy statements have been released on topics of direct relevance to this report. In April 2006, for example, the Australian Institute published the findings of a national survey of staff working in long day care centres (Rush 2006). In June 2006, the New South Wales and Queensland Commissions for Children and Young People, and the National Investment for the Early Years (NIFTeY), launched their Policy directions for improving the experiences of infants and young children in a changing world (Press 2006). In July 2006, Council of Australian Governments (COAG) met to consider reforms in priority areas including:

  • early childhood—with the aim of supporting families in improving childhood development outcomes in the first five years of a child’s life, up to and including school entry
  • child care—with the aim of encouraging and supporting workforce participation of parents with dependent children (COAG Communique, cited by the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia workshop).

Also in July 2006, the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia hosted a workshop on child care policy that identified Ten policy principles for a national system of early childhood education and care and subsequently published Kids count. Better early childhood education and care in Australia (Hill, Pocock & Elliott 2007). In August 2006, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released Starting strong II, Early childhood education and care (ECEC), which reviewed access and provision of ECEC in the context of women’s labour force participation and parental leave, quality-assurance mechanisms and OECD-identified areas for policy attention across 20 countries, including Australia.

In December 2007, the COAG formed the Productivity Agenda Working Group ‘to pursue substantial reform in the areas of education, skills and early childhood development’ (COAG December 2007 Communique). The working group released a discussion paper (‘A national quality framework for early childhood education and care’) in August 2008 to progress these reforms (COAG 2008). In November 2008, the COAG endorsed a new National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education with a commitment to ensuring that all children will have access to a quality early childhood education program by 2013, delivered by a four-year university-trained early childhood teacher, for 15 hours a week, 40 weeks a year, in the year before formal schooling. Subsequently the Office of Early Childhood Education and Childcare released a series of documents to support the development of the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care, the National Early Years Workforce Strategy and the Early Years Learning Framework.

The following summary, discussion and interpretation of results from Wave 1 of the LSAC study draw on these contemporary reports in considering how the research can inform Australian government and non-government organisations (NGOs) as they continue the process of early childhood education and child care policy review, reform and implementation.

Broadly, the preliminary findings in this report echo the findings of recent international research studies that show close associations between family circumstances and the use of child care and early childhood education (ed. NICHD–ECC 2005), along with the stronger relationship between developmental outcomes and family characteristics than child care experiences (NICHD-ECC 2006). In other words, it is clear that family demographics and socioeconomic and psychosocial factors affect the child care choices parents make (that is, to use or not use care, and, if so, what type and what amount per week) and the development of the child. The approach we have taken in this final section places families at the centre of the discussion about the use and impact of child care and early education on child outcomes.

This section consolidates the findings presented in Sections 3 to 8. We highlight convergent themes within the infant and child cohorts, and across age groups. Where appropriate, we refer to links between the LSAC findings and existing research to identify areas of convergence and divergence. Where there is divergence, we speculate on what might explain the differences between international and Australian results. In reviewing key findings from LSAC, we identify links to current issues and policy discussions in early childhood education and care. The section concludes with comments on future directions for research and analysis, both within the LSAC data set and beyond.

9.2 Summary and review of key findings

Infant child care and developmental outcomes

In relation to the infant cohort, we noted that, as in the US NICHD–ECC study, the primary driver for using child care for infants was parents’ work or study commitments, but that the decision to return to work was related to maternal psychosocial characteristics (for example, lower separation anxiety) and socioeconomic and demographic factors (for example, higher weekly income, fewer children in the household). Availability of suitable child care, although not directly addressed in the LSAC interview, is also a likely factor in mothers returning to work. A key finding was that infant child care, used by just over one-third of the LSAC families, was primarily accessed within the family network, through grandparents or other relatives. These forms of informal home-based care settings, together with family day care homes, constituted the care experience received by 71.7 per cent of infants in care, whereas long day care centres were used by only 28.3 per cent of infants. Maternal characteristics associated with the use of long day care centres were: having a university education, working full-time, and reporting lower levels of social support, parenting self-efficacy and positive parenting.

Infant communication and home-based care

Associations between child care characteristics and ‘concern’ regarding infants’ emerging communications skills were very small. In general, the experience of non-parental child care did not appear to be related to the development of infant communication skills, but results suggested a consistent pattern that favoured home-based care settings (informal and formal). Infants cared for by relatives or non-relative informal carers (such as nannies) were the group least likely to be identified as having poor communication ability. This type of care setting is most likely to approach a ratio of one adult to one infant. The NICHD study noted that ‘… the closer the child–adult ratio is to 1:1, the higher was the probability of sensitive, positive caregiving’ (ed. NICHD–ECC 2005, p. 63).

The effects of quality, as measured by carers’ level of education, group size, adult-to-child ratios, carer–child interaction and provisions for play and learning, could not be controlled for in the LSAC analyses of infant outcomes (due to the small sample size for carers of LSAC infants who returned their questionnaires). However, given the consistency with which quality care has been associated with cognitive developmental outcomes in other studies, it is possible that the child care effects we have reported for infant communication reflect differences in the quality of child care in different settings. As reported in the literature review, more positive involvement by the care giver and a more stimulating verbal environment—key ingredients of high quality care—have been associated with gains in language and cognitive outcomes in toddlers and preschoolers. Self-reports of activities from carers of the LSAC infants indicated they were involved with infants in singing, telling stories, reading books and playing at a similarly high level across all types of care settings, both home-based and centre-based. While this finding may indicate a limitation in the measure, that is, being self-report rather than observed ratings, it reinforces the importance of taking into account the number of children placed with any single child care provider as this influences the nature and intensity of interactions that take place between infants and adults.

Low child-to-carer ratios in home care settings provide a greater opportunity for focused one-on-one interaction, which is a likely contributor to the association with enhanced infant communication ability. As the overall number of LSAC infants attending formal child care settings was relatively small, these findings can only be regarded as preliminary. However, they do suggest that carer-to-child ratios and group size may well moderate the effects on communication skills of child care experiences in the first year of life.

Infant physical health and centre-based care

The results of multivariable analyses predicting parent-reported low physical health and greater occurrence of acute infections also favoured home-based care settings. Infants attending informal home-care arrangements with relatives and non-relatives, or formal family day care homes, were no more likely to have poorer health outcomes or acute infections than infants in exclusive parental care. In contrast, centre-based care was associated with a higher likelihood of infants being identified as having ongoing infections and poorer health. Further, more hours in centre-based care increased the risk of ongoing health problems.

The NICHD-ECC longitudinal study has the best dataset for the purposes of comparison. As mentioned in Section 1, the NICHD-ECC study showed that children looked after in groups of six or more were 1.4 to 2 times more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal, ear or upper-respiratory infections than children looked after in smaller groups. It is likely that children attending group care settings with six or more very young children have a much greater chance of getting an infection from another child, either by direct contact or from coming into contact with viruses and bacteria spread through the air or onto objects such as toys. However, while common infections such as coughs and colds can be uncomfortable for the child, they are rarely serious. In subsequent waves of LSAC it will be possible to ascertain whether there is a relation between ongoing problems with infections and other areas of infant development. Recurrent ear infections, for example, can lead to hearing loss, and prolonged or intermittent hearing loss associated with ear infection can result in delayed language acquisition. It is worth noting, however, that longitudinal data from the NICHD-ECC study suggests that health status from birth to age 3 years was not associated with later child behaviour, language or school readiness. Future analysis of subsequent waves of the LSAC data set will be needed to assess the possibility of a similar pattern of results in Australia.

Child care/early education and development for 4 to 5 year olds

In relation to the child cohort, it was apparent that, as in the UK EPPE research (Sylva et al. 2003, the LSAC families accessed a diverse range of programs for their child’s care and early education. These programs differed by location (for example, school and non-school settings), auspice (for example, community-based and privately owned), cost (for example, state or territory or Australian Government subsidies), hours and days of opening (for example, school hours/terms, part-time hours, full-time long day care), staffing requirements (for example, staff-to-child ratio, university versus TAFE qualified staff), curriculum (for example, teacher-directed versus child-initiated approaches to learning), environment (for example, children’s access to educational resources) and support for staff (for example, professional development, decision-making processes). While all state and territory governments in Australia have some commitment to supporting children’s access to one year of preschool in the year before they start formal school (pre-Year 1), the states and territories differ in the extent to which this policy is enacted. The primary mode is through government funding of preschool programs in schools and non-school settings. A less common approach is through educational programs available through other formal schemes such as long day care centres.

Earlier reports on the Wave 1 data set for 4 to 5 year olds have noted that some of the variation in the use of preschool education programs and the affordability of these programs for the LSAC families was related to the state or territory in which they resided (Harrison & Ungerer 2005). Importantly, however, analyses undertaken in this report focused on national trends.

Use of early education and care programs and developmental outcomes

On average, 95.1 per cent of the LSAC families were using some form of centre or school-based early childhood education and care program for their 4 to 5 year-old child. The remaining 4.9 per cent of children were either cared for exclusively at home, or at a relative’s home, or by a family day carer. Compelling evidence from international studies of the long-term benefits of attending an early childhood education program in the years before entering formal school (Gormley Jr et al. 2005; Magnuson et al. 2003; Manuson, Ruhm & Waldfogel 2004; NICHD & Duncan 2003; Sylva et al. 2003) is consistent with findings presented in this report showing poorer outcomes in language, literacy and numeracy for children receiving exclusive parental care or home-based care only. We felt it was critical, therefore, to identify the factors associated with families not using a school/centre-based early childhood program.

Seventeen separate measures indexing family background, including child and maternal sociodemographic characteristics, family finances, community disadvantage, maternal employment, social support, personal wellbeing and parenting, were assessed in relation to the type of care/early education. Of the 17 measures tested, 12 were significantly associated with reduced likelihood of children’s non-attendance at a school or centre-based care/early education program and 11 could be seen as ‘risk factors’ for poorer child outcomes. These consisted of: lower maternal education, lower family income, more financial stresses, more children in the household, unemployed mother, living in a less-advantaged neighbourhood, growing up in a lone-parent or Indigenous family, speaking a language in the home other than English, and having a mother with higher levels of psychological distress or poorer parenting behaviour. These analyses showed that families more at risk were not only least likely to use formal care/early education services, but also more likely to use programs on offer at school settings. Low fees and ease of access to these programs (in states and territories with universal preschool provision within the public school system) are likely to make them attractive options for less economically advantaged families.

Further related to children’s experience of early childhood were findings showing that for 20 per cent of children, entry into their first non-parental child care/early education setting occurred after age 4 years. This added a further dimension to our exploration of the LSAC families’ use of care/early education settings, by raising the question of whether pre-Year 1 in school might be the first encounter many children have with a formal early childhood setting. Unfortunately, the limitations of the Wave 1 data set for the 4 to 5 year-old cohort did not allow us to address this question; however, future waves of data collection for the infant cohort will be able to fully and prospectively record children’s experiences of care/early education in the years before entering pre-Year 1 at school. A key question for future investigation is whether children who enter pre-Year 1 without previously attending a centre or school-based care/education program experience more difficulty in adjusting to school than their peers. Related to this is the question of whether duration (in years) of experience in formal care/preschool education programs influences child outcomes in school, as has been noted in the UK EPPE study.

In relation to child developmental outcomes, results for language ability showed that children attending a school or preschool program were more competent, as measured by receptive vocabulary, than children who did not attend an early childhood program, including school, preschool and long day care. For children who attended such a program, the three main types of care/early education—pre-Year 1, preschool and long day care centres—were equally beneficial for their language competence. Similar findings were noted for the broader construct of school readiness, as assessed by the Who Am I? test of early literacy and numeracy. Apart from pre-Year 1, which was associated with higher test results, children were equally well prepared by their prior to school care/education experience in preschool or in long day care settings.

Amount of care/early education and developmental outcomes

Just as accessibility and cost of care/education are linked to state and territory policies for the provision of preschool education for 4 year olds, so is the amount of time children can attend these settings per week. For example, universal fully funded preschool is available for 10 to 12 hours per week in six of Australia’s eight states and territories (Press 2006). Not surprisingly then, preschool was the most commonly used type of care/education in the LSAC sample (54.6 per cent). When preschool was the only setting the child attended, this was for an average of 12 to 14 hours a week. For many families (32.0 per cent of the sample) these hours were enough. But for others, longer weekly hours were used, either by adding other care arrangements to preschool (22.6 per cent) or by using a long day care centre, on its own or with other care (23.9 per cent). These combinations of arrangements resulted in children being in care/education settings for an average of 24.4 to 26.0 hours/week (preschool with other care) or an average of 33.9 hours a week (long day care with other care).

Results for children’s cognitive outcomes showed mixed effects for the amount of weekly care/education. An unexpected finding, not evident in previous research, was that receptive vocabulary scores were negatively associated with longer weekly hours of attendance at care/education, particularly as hours reached 31 to 40 or more than 40 hours a week. In other studies, cognitive and language outcomes have typically been associated with quality and type of care (NICHD-ECC) or duration (in years attended) of preschool experience (Sylva et al. 2003), rather than weekly hours. Given that quality ratings were similarly good across the three main types of early childhood programs, the explanation for the LSAC findings may lie in the combinations of care and education used by families needing longer hours. It was common for families to add informal care from relatives and non-relatives to increase their child’s weekly hours of care. These types of settings were found (in the infant cohort) to be less well equipped than formal settings with resources to support children’s language, and creative and pretend play. If the 4 to 5 year-old children have attended these informal settings for an extended period of time, it may be that this prolonged exposure to a less stimulating environment has contributed to lower receptive vocabulary scores. This possibility is supported by other Australian research that has linked informal care in the first 2.5 years to poorer academic adjustment at school (Love et al. 2003).

An alternate explanation for the association between longer hours of care/education and poorer language competence is needed, however, for children whose additional care was provided through other formal settings (that is, preschool with long day care). In this case, it may be that longer hours in multiple group care settings are overtaxing the adaptive capacities of the children. At this stage, it is not possible to determine whether the association is explained by the child’s current care/education attendance or by previous child care experiences. Future waves of LSAC will shed light on this question.

A different pattern of results was noted for amount of care/education and the broader construct of school readiness, as tested by children’s scores on the Who am I? test. Attending an early childhood program for more than eight hours per week, particularly for the categories of 9 to 20 or 21 to 30 hours a week, was associated with higher scores for early literacy and numeracy.

The associations between amount of care/early education and child cognitive outcomes warrants closer examination. It was clear from parents’ reasons for using additional care/education for their child that for most families (69.7 to 72.3 per cent) longer hours were needed to enable them to meet their work or study commitments. This was a common experience across most of the LSAC families. We noted few associations between amount of care/education and family demographic or socioeconomic characteristics or maternal wellbeing. Where there were significant findings, they pointed to more economically advantaged families using longer hours of care, but additionally, lone parents and families speaking a language other than English also used longer hours. For the latter group, the most common arrangement used for the child was pre-Year 1 plus additional child care.

The use of multiple care/education arrangements may be evidence that the current care/education system is not working for some families. Using two or more different weekly care settings to cover the hours of a part-time or full-time job is a likely stressor for families and possibly also for children (Bowes et al. 2004). Large families are a particular case in point. As the numbers of children in the household increased, families tended to use shorter hours of care. It was not possible in the current analyses to determine whether this was due to issues of affordability of care or of accessibility to the different care/education settings that children of different ages can attend. The findings are reminiscent of McDonald’s (2000a, 2000b) earlier work on family size, which identified the diminished capacity of large families to balance work and family responsibilities due to limitations on what care/education services parents are able to access in terms of location or affordability, or the services they elect to use.

These findings illustrate the possible difficulties families may have in finding a good match between their child’s care/education and their own work arrangements. They also underline the interconnections between the amount and stability (multiplicity) of care, both of which have been associated with more negative outcomes for children, particularly in the social and emotional domain (Harrison & Ungerer 2000; NICHD-ECC 2001, 2003). Similar findings are noted in this report, not for amount (in hours of care used per week), but for multiplicity of settings and/or programs used by any one child/family during a given week. Teachers reported more behaviour problems and lower pro-social behaviour in children attending more care/education settings per week.

Contexts of care and early education

Studies from a variety of locations, internationally and within Australia, have underlined the importance of quality in child care and early education programs. The LSAC study gathered details on the structural indicators of quality (adult-to-child ratios, carer/teacher level of education and experience), but was limited by not being able to gather observational measures of process quality. Carer/teacher self-report provisions were included to approximate these measures and have generated valuable information on aspects of infant care and educational programs for 4 to 5 year olds. LSAC also has obtained linked data from the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) for Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS) ratings for formal long day care centres and family day care schemes attended by the LSAC infant and child. Analysis of these NCAC data was not possible within the present report, but in future it will be possible to examine child outcomes in relation to these externally assessed aspects of child care quality.

Structural indicators of quality

Infant care settings and care/education programs for 4 to 5 year olds were described in terms of carer/teacher age, experience, level and field of education and ratios of children to staff. For infant care, staff in long day care centres were the more qualified, but also the youngest, and therefore the least experienced, carers. In contrast, informal home-based carers were older, and thus potentially more experienced, but had lower levels of formal education (for example, 48.8 per cent with Year 10 or less). The quality of informal care settings becomes critical when examining the pattern of usage across the LSAC samples. The findings presented in this report showed that about one-quarter of infants (24.3 per cent) and children aged 4 to 5 years (25.6 per cent) received regular care from relatives or non-relatives. Subsequent longitudinal analyses on the use of non-parental care have shown that informal care was used by approximately one-third of LSAC families when infants were aged 1 to 2 years (31.3 per cent) (Blakemore 2007) and 2 to 3 years (33.9 per cent) (Harrison 2007, 2008). These four data collection points of LSAC provide strong evidence for a continuous use of informal care throughout the prior-to-school years.

Research has shown that care givers’ education level and receptive vocabulary are key predictors of child language and cognitive outcomes (ed. NICHD-ECC 2005). Is there cause for concern, therefore, in that a significant proportion of LSAC children are receiving informal care from carers who, in general, have achieved only minimal levels of school education? Results pointing to higher outcomes for infant communication in informal home-based care suggest this may not be a problem for very young children; but results showing lower receptive vocabulary for 4 to 5 year-old children attending long day care or preschool with other care are consistent with this concern. The possible associations between infant outcomes and quality of care were not able to be tested due to the small numbers of infants in child care. However, multivariable analyses of outcomes for 4 to 5 year olds were able to include carer/teacher education, and showed the benefits for children of having more university qualified and more experienced staff. At this stage there is no evidence to suggest that informal home-based care is not appropriate or beneficial for infants’ development. The question for future waves of the LSAC data analysis is whether this continues to be true for toddlers and preschoolers.

For children aged 4 to 5 years, there were marked difference in teachers’ level of education across the four types of early childhood settings. School-based pre-Year 1 (77.5 per cent) and preschool teachers (73.9 per cent) were the most likely to be university qualified, compared to 56.8 per cent in preschools not in a school and 42.7 per cent in long day care. Multivariable analyses predicting mother-reported pro-social and problem behaviour identified that having a teacher with a university qualification was linked to improved outcomes. Also notable were differences in teachers’ area of study. Less than one-half of pre-Year 1 teachers (41.4 per cent) held a specialist early childhood qualification; whereas this type of qualification was typical of preschool (77.7 per cent). Long day care staff held either early childhood (53.1 per cent) or child care (25.3 per cent) qualifications. Multivariable analyses for the subgroup of 4 to 5 year olds attending pre-Year 1 identified the benefits for children’s language development of having an early childhood qualified teacher.

On the whole, however, the data suggested that preschool and long day care services were more similar than different on these indices of quality. This is the likely explanation for the LSAC care quality measures not being strong predictors of child developmental outcomes (which differs from US results). Studies have shown that the level of observed quality achieved in Australian early childhood services is significantly higher and less variable than levels observed in US settings (Harrison et al. 2006).

Process indicators of quality

Carers and teachers reported on their involvement, the types of experiences being provided and level of resources for infant and childhood play and learning. Again, it was not possible to include the infant indicators in the outcome analyses, but descriptive comparisons indicated important differences in practices across formal and informal home-based care. These data alert us to the limited provisions for infant play and learning that may be typical of informal care settings, and while informal care with relatives was found to be a positive influence in infancy, it remains to be seen if this type of setting continues to meet the developmental needs of children as they become more physically mobile, and more socially and linguistically active.

For the child cohort, different teaching practices were associated with different aspects of child development. Teacher-supported small group activities were linked to improved social outcomes for preschool and long day care settings, and to improved literacy and numeracy for pre-Year 1 classrooms. Teacher-directed whole group activities were beneficial for children’s academic outcomes. Child-initiated activities, seen by many educators to be an important part of new approaches in early childhood education, such as emergent curriculum (for example, the NSW Department of Community Services 2003), were negatively associated with academic and social outcomes, but only for children in pre-Year 1 classes. It will be interesting to follow up the longer-term outcomes of this approach in analyses of Wave 2 when all children will have entered formal school settings and data collection is expanded to include a wider range of school adjustment measures, such as children’s attitudes to school and ability to work independently.

Organisational indicators of quality

The measures selected for the LSAC study also address the importance of quality of good employment practices in early childhood settings. ‘High quality care depends upon stable, qualified, appropriately rewarded staff’ (ASSA Principle 6). A measure of workplace supportiveness for staff was included for long day care centres and family day care homes attended by infants and for all care/education programs attended by 4 to 5 year olds. Interestingly, the information received from staff was very positive—average ratings were over four on a five-point scale, and only a very small number of staff rated their centre’s supportiveness at three or under. Long day care scores were almost identical for carers of infants and teachers of 4 to 5 year olds (means of 26.4 to 26.6 out of 30). For teachers/carers in centre and school-based settings for 4 to 5 year olds, slightly lower ratings of support in the workplace were reported in school settings.

9.3 Emergent themes

Quality issues for infant child care

This section considers mechanisms to support the provision of high quality infant child care. It is an artefact of the study design that LSAC has limited data on structural indicators of quality in infant care. Indeed, group size and child-to-staff ratios were only available for formal child care settings. The effects of these aspects of child care quality can thus only be controlled for in analyses involving the small subset of infants attending formal child care. Carer age, experience and education, carer–child interaction and provision of resources for play and learning were available for all child care settings, but it was not possible to control for child care quality in analyses involving infants across the full range of care arrangements as well as infants in exclusive parental care. It was also difficult to quantify the exact impact of the observed differential between the care providers in terms of their education/training and age/experience with child rearing. However, from a policy perspective, the need for ongoing professional development for all care providers across all areas of early childhood care and education requires serious consideration. The following sections highlight key themes for policy makers and professional practitioners.

Child-to-carer ratios

The large majority of LSAC families chose to use small group, home-based child care for their infants, most often provided by relatives. The associated advantages for infant health and communication development raise the issue of infant-to-carer ratios and how these vary across different types of care. As noted in Section 7, in a recently proposed set of principles for child care in Australia, experts recommended that ratios for infant care be no more than three infants to every carer (ASSA Ten policy principles for a national system of early childhood education and care). Furthermore, studies have identified lower ratios with more positive care giving. Findings from the LSAC study showed that for the majority of centres, the reported staff-to-child ratio was 1:4. Although ratios were not recorded for home-based care, it is likely that many infants in informal care arrangements were cared for in one-to-one arrangements or with their siblings. For those in family day care services, the number of children per carer is likely to be higher (on average, around Australia family day care regulations stipulate a 1:5 carer-to-child ratio for children not yet at school; Press 2006), but services tend to restrict the number of infants within this group to either one or two. A mix of age groups in family day care can enhance the carer’s ability to provide one-to-one interaction with an infant while at the same time monitoring and supporting toddlers’ and preschoolers’ play. Such a mix of ages is less common in long day care centres, although this model (family grouping) may be a useful means for staff to work within the context of high ratios of children to adults (4 or 5:1) usually found in long day care centres.

Infant health

Maintaining good health is an important aspect of high quality care. The data presented in this report have shown that infants attending centre-based care are at greater risk of having ongoing infections than infants receiving home-based care. The Australian Government’s QIAS addresses infection control within the ‘health’ quality area in long day care centres under quality principle 6.6—‘The centre acts to control the spread of infectious diseases and maintains records of immunisations’. Ensuring that the recommended measures, precautions and daily practices (for example, toy washing) underpinning these principles are implemented should reduce the risk of infections. Interestingly, in respect of QIAS principle 6.6, the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC 2007) reported that 69 per cent of long day care centres had achieved high quality, 14 per cent achieved good quality, 0 per cent were satisfactory and 17 per cent were unsatisfactory. This was one of eight principles for centre-based care identified as most often not achieving a satisfactory rating. Maintenance of quality-assurance processes in respect of health is critical if rates of infection among children attending child care are to decrease. It may be possible to examine these questions in future analyses of the LSAC infant cohort by analysing the linked dataset provided by the NCAC on QIAS ratings for principles related to health in the long day care centres used by families in LSAC and family day care homes.

The policy in long day care and family day care concerning the exclusion of children who are sick and infectious from mixing with other children can be a difficult decision-making process for carers/teachers. They might be reluctant to send a child home when parents have no access to other forms of care, but have to balance the care needs of one family against the health needs of the other children in the setting. In terms of policies for recurrent infections, services might also consider advising parents of children who experience more frequent infections that substituting time spent with large groups of children with time in a small group care setting, such as family day care or other regulated home care service, may prove beneficial. We note that, within the field, it is recognised that finding appropriate day care services for children when they contract infectious diseases is an ongoing policy challenge for parents and policy planners.

Support for home-based carers

Given the extensive use of informal care settings for infants, and the evidence that these carers are least likely to have completed a high school education or undertaken training in early childhood care, it is important to consider strategies that could enhance the level of professional support available to relatives and non-relatives providing these services. For example, the LSAC findings included a self-reported lower level of carer involvement in active outdoor play in relative and non-relative home-based care, and less availability of resources for infant and toddler creative and pretend play.

It may be worthwhile to investigate options for extending the services provided by maternal and child health nurses. For instance, grandparents, other relatives and non-relatives caring for children could be encouraged to participate in supported playgroups made available regularly in local neighbourhoods. These supported playgroups could be coordinated by multidisciplinary teams involving education, health and welfare professionals delivering formal services, as has been developed in the UK’s Children’s Centres program.

Support for long day care centre carers/teachers

Results showed that families using long day care centres for their infants’ child care tend to be more economically advantaged, but also more psychosocially disadvantaged, than families using home-based care. In particular, mothers using long day care reported lower levels of social support, parental self-esteem and positive parenting than mothers using other forms of care. Given that these measures of maternal wellbeing were also associated with poorer developmental outcomes for children—including infant communication competence and physical health, and child social wellbeing and cognitive achievement—the implications for centre-based carers, teachers and managers need serious consideration. Promoting positive parenting, supporting parents in their care giving role, and helping families to form social networks are key aspects of high quality child care provision, but to achieve this requires targeted professional development for staff and centre policies that include effective strategies to enhance the learning potential of parent users as well as staff.

Quality in prior-to-school care and education

The 2006 OECD report, Starting Strong II, identified four policy issues for Australia, two of which referred to quality. It identified the need for ‘firmer regulations about numbers of trained staff to be employed’ (p. 272). Recent policy documents from Australian sources are similarly unanimous in highlighting the need for early childhood services to not only employ university, TAFE and other appropriately qualified staff, but also to maintain a high ratio of qualified staff to children. LSAC has provided data (albeit limited to the child’s primary carer/teacher) showing inequities in the number of university qualified staff in the different early childhood sectors: schools, preschools not in a school and long day care centres. The data also showed that carer/teacher participants in long day care centres were younger than their counterparts in schools and preschools, suggesting that long day care may comprise a relatively youthful workforce. Although not assessed by the LSAC questions, this finding may indicate a higher level of staff turnover in long day care compared to other early childhood settings.

Related to staff turnover is the second policy issue identified by the OECD report—the possible undermining of quality by ‘the low pay, low status, and training levels of ECEC staff’ (p. 272). Although the workplace conditions of pay and status were not addressed by LSAC, findings on staff perceptions of their workplace do not bear out suggestions that poor workplace conditions are undermining quality. Staff who completed the questionnaires gave consistently high ratings on items related to supportiveness of their environment, which is a good indication that staff feel valued and able to contribute to decision-making processes. However, these results are limited to the single staff member who completed the LSAC survey and to conditions within workplace settings; they do not speak for the wider population of child care workers or address the broader issues of pay and status that may affect job satisfaction and performance. It may also be the case that teachers/carers who worked in a more supportive workplace were more likely to have the time and motivation to complete and return the questionnaire. The LSAC framework is, therefore, limited in the extent to which it can help policy makers understand the impact of child care workforce and management practices on quality.

Comprehensive universal system of early childhood provision versus fragmentation

One challenge facing the LSAC families was to match their child’s use of care/early education with their work or study commitments. We noted that mixed arrangements of care and education were used by many families (rising from 23.2 per cent for the infant cohort to 35.8 per cent for families with a 4 to 5 year-old child) and were most evident in families requiring longer hours of care than may have been available through school, preschool or long day care settings. The fragmented nature of these experiences appeared to have some negative impact on older children, as indexed by a direct association with poorer social and behavioural outcomes, according to their teachers/carers. Other factors that may have contributed to this association include more time spent in multiple care overall, or having experienced more changes of care settings over time. The demands placed on children attending different care arrangements, or care for very long hours, are a likely explanation for results showing lower social developmental outcomes for children in mixed care settings and lower cognitive outcomes for children in care for more than 31 hours per week. Although not directly assessed in the LSAC protocol, it would not be unexpected for families to also feel more stressed by having to manage multiple care arrangements across the week.

These findings echo policy discussions and recommendations on ‘coherence and coordination’ in early childhood provisions (OECD 2006, p. 272) and the need for greater integration of services within ‘a national, universal, and integrated early childhood education and care system’ (ASSA 2006, Principle 3). In these debates, it is also important to note that 4.2 per cent of families identified ‘relationships with grandparents/relatives’ as their reason for using multiple care. Consideration of families’ preference for informal care within the extended family must also be addressed in future policy discussion.

Infants and children with additional educational needs

Findings for both infant and child cohorts highlighted differences in families’ use of care and education settings, and in developmental outcomes, for children from special groups, notably Indigenous children and children growing up in homes where a language other than English is spoken. Although LSAC is limited in its ability to address specific issues related to special groups because of the relatively low level of representation in the population and the LSAC sample, the information in this report identified issues of policy relevance, particularly in relation to children from LOTE families. A consistent pattern that emerged for both infant and child cohorts was the use of longer hours of child care and the use of informal family-based care (with parents, grandparents or other relatives) to meet this need. Added to this is evidence that LOTE families were more likely than English-only speaking families to enrol their child in a pre-Year 1 program.

It has not been possible to undertake a deeper level of analysis of the data set to answer questions about why LOTE families are using informal care and school, rather than prior-to-school preschool and long day care programs. It would be interesting to know to what extent families from non–English speaking backgrounds represent recently arrived immigrants and refugees with limited experience of formal services prior to their arrival in Australia. Previous experiences with formal care/education services and the child rearing practices of their own family context are likely influences on parents’ use of formal services for their own children. Further investigation is needed to ascertain whether LOTE families are opting out of the formal child care/education system and, if so, whether this is due to cultural preference, affordability, or lack of culturally-responsive services.

The observed pattern for some LSAC children of having no experience of centre or school-based early childhood education before entering formal school was the least advantageous for children’s social, English language, and early literacy and numeracy development. When considering the evidence for LOTE children, it may be that pre-Year 1 is not the best environment for these children to have their first opportunity to interact with their English-speaking peers. Raising awareness and understanding about these research findings can be incorporated into resource and policy documents distributed to newly arrived immigrant and refugee families with young children requiring access to early childhood care and education services.

Early childhood education and care as family support

Much has been written about the role of formal early childhood services as family support, particularly for Australian children growing up in circumstances of disadvantage (Stanley, Richardson & Prior 2005). While this issue was not in the scope of the present study, findings presented in this report are relevant. We noted that families reporting a higher level of risk on a number of child, family and community factors were less likely to be using care and education provisions for their child. Future investigations need to investigate the incidence and implications of children growing up ‘outside the early childhood care and education system’ to identify why the system is not working for them and how to best provide means of support. Matching needs according to factors such as age, cultural background, languages spoken, religion and length of residence in Australia may also enhance parents’ sense of security and self-confidence in their caring and educating of their young children.

For the infant cohort, the majority of mothers were not at work and were providing exclusive parental care. However, whether this was linked to a lack of connection to the workforce, a preference for being at home with their infants, or to availability of formal child care services or relatives as possible care providers could not be identified at this stage of the study. Mothers of infants not in care did report higher levels of separation anxiety and lower levels of social support. In these circumstances, it may be that other services, such as supported playgroups, would be more appropriate sites to develop social networks and support. Monitoring and evaluating the long-term effectiveness of these structures also requires adequate resourcing.

For the 4 to 5 year olds, parental factors beneficial to children’s social and language development, such as more positive parenting behaviour, were also linked to the use of formal care/education settings. Parents of children not attending any centre or school-based programs were more likely to report parenting difficulties (that is, less warmth, more hostility, less consistency). While there may be other reasons for these findings, they also support the positive impact on parenting that may arise from regular contact with formal early childhood education services and the opportunity to discuss child rearing issues with the qualified staff who work there. Early childhood education and care centres can also act as a hub to coordinate service delivery by bringing together professionals from different disciplines, such as health workers and social workers, to support families in a cohesive way.

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9.4 Conclusions and future directions

Recent developments in Australia have seen a concerted focus on the early childhood years, both from government organisations (for example, the National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education, the National Agenda for Early Childhood), government and non-government representatives (for example, What about the kids? published by the New South Wales and Queensland Commissioners for children with NIFTeY), and experts in the field (for example, ASSA, Ten principles for a national system of early childhood education and care and Kids count. Better early childhood education and care in Australia). The timeliness of the release of the Wave 1 LSAC study data that informed this report cannot be overstated. The findings are nationally representative, comprehensive and contemporary. Future waves of data will continue to inform the nation about the ways families manage their child care needs and make provision for early education experiences for their toddlers and preschoolers. Future waves will also provide the first national data on the use of school-age child care.

This report underlines the interconnections among family circumstances and children’s experiences of non-parental child care and early education. Most families of infants were providing exclusive parental care, but when care was used it was primarily within informal arrangements with relatives. This form of infant care was found to have benefits for the child’s physical health and communication; however, this finding must be qualified by the limitations of the measures available for this young and varied age range, and by the small numbers of infants enrolled in the different types of care settings. By age 4 to 5 years, 95.1 per cent of the LSAC children were attending a formal early childhood program provided by qualified teachers/carers in a school, preschool, or long day care centre. In the main, these centre and school-based experiences were found to enhance children’s development across social, language and learning domains. Some concern was raised, however, for children accessing long hours of care additional to the primary early childhood program, particularly in relation to their language development.

This report, while not claiming to represent early childhood care and education services, suggests that infants and 4 to 5 year-old children are receiving positive experiences in their care/education settings. Most carers reported that they interact with infants in ways that stimulate play and development across all domains. Similarly, teachers/carers in schools, preschools and long day care centres reported that they engage children in a variety of curriculum approaches that support learning and social interaction. In addition, carers/teachers reported a good to high level of personal support in the formal child care and preschool services where they work. These are positive findings for the early childhood field.

The LSAC Wave 1 data have generated current, comprehensive information on the links between families, their use of child care/early education services and children’s developmental outcomes. The findings have, in some cases, affirmed previous Australian and international reports and, in others, identified new findings. There are important implications to be drawn from this report into Child care and early education in Australia for policy and professional practice in early childhood education and care.

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Appendix A: Summary table of research studies informing the literature review

Table Description

Table A1: Summary table of research studies informing the literature review

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

The NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (NICHD–ECC)

Phase I (1991–1994) birth to 3 years

Phase II (1995–1999) through first grade

Phase III (2000–2004) through middle childhood

To examine how variations in non-maternal care are related to children’s social–emotional adjustment, cognitive and linguistic development, and physical growth and health

Ten data collection sites located across major regions of the United States

Longitudinal design

Sites located across major regions of the country in urban, suburban and rural areas, representing different populations and widely varying state child care regulations

Inclusion of ethnic-minority, lone-parent and low-education families at every site

A sample large enough to permit reasonably precise estimations of effect sizes

Children followed from birth

Extensive direct observation of home, child care and school experiences.

Multiple measures of social–emotional development, cognitive and language development, achievement, and physical growth and health

Use of multiple quality-of-care indices

1,364 families with healthy newborns

Retention rate through phase II=80.6 per cent

Observational record of the care giving environment (ORCE)

Carer characteristics

Carer parenting attitudes

Child care quality (structural aspects

Multiple measures of social–emotional development, cognitive and language development, achievement, and physical growth and health

Cognitive/language development

Quality of carer behaviour positively related to cognitive and linguistic abilities at ages 15, 24 and 36 months

3 year olds in classes that met care giver training/education standards showed greater school readiness and better language comprehension

At 4 1/2 years, overall quality of child care experienced since infancy retained its positive association with children’s performance on tests of pre-academic skills and language

At age 2, children who were being cared for in child care centres and child care homes did better on measures of cognitive and language development than did children in other forms of care

By age 3, greater cumulative experience in centre care and early experience in child care homes both associated with better cognitive and language outcomes than other forms of care

At 4 1/2 years, cumulative experience in centre care positively associated with cognitive and linguistic outcomes

Social/behavioural development

NICHD–ECC (2006)

Tran & Weinraub (2006)

NICHD–ECC (ed. 2005)

NICHD–ECC (1999)

NICHD–ECC & Duncan (2003)

NICHD–ECC (2002)

NICHD–ECC (2000a)

NICHD–ECC (2000b)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references
             

At 24 months, children who had experienced higher quality care were reported to have fewer behaviour problems by both their mothers and their care givers and were rated higher on social competence by their mothers

At 36 months, higher quality care was associated with greater compliance and less negative behaviour during mother–child interactions and fewer care giver-reported behaviour problems

Over the first 3 years of life, higher quality child care associated with greater maternal sensitivity during mother–child interaction

Poor quality child care related to insecure infant–mother attachment at 15 months, but only when the mother was also relatively low in sensitivity and responsiveness

Children in classes that met the guidelines for child–staff ratios had fewer behaviour problems and more positive social behaviours at 24 and 36 months

3 year olds in classes that met the standards for care giver training and higher education showed fewer behaviour problems

 

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references
             

When children spent more hours in child care, mothers were less sensitive in their interactions with their children (at 6, 15, 24 and 36 months)

Analyses of attachment at 15 months showed that children who spent more hours in child care and had mothers who were relatively insensitive and unresponsive were at heightened risk for insecure infant–mother attachments

At 24 months, more hours in care were associated with mothers’ reports of lower social competence and carers’ reports of more problem behaviours. These associations were not seen at 36 months, but there was a reappearance of quantity effects at 4 1/2 years, with more hours of child care positively associated with care giver-reported behaviour problems. At kindergarten, quantity of care was associated with both teacher and mother ratings of problem behaviours

At 4 1/2 years, cumulative experience in centre care was positively associated with care giver reports of externalising behaviour problems

 

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references
             

Children with more cumulative experience in group care showed more cooperation with their mothers in the laboratory at age 2, less negative laboratory interaction with their mothers at age 3, and fewer care giver-reported behaviour problems at both ages. However, greater group experience before 12 months was associated with more mother-reported behaviour problems at age 3

At 15 months, children who had experienced more changes in care arrangements and maternal insensitivity were at heightened risk of insecure attachment

At age 2 (but not at age 3), experience with more child care arrangements was associated with a higher number of behaviour problems, as reported by mothers and observed in the child care setting

Family influences are consistently better predictors of children’s outcomes than early child care experiences alone

 

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Birth Cohort (ECLS-B)

2001 (ongoing)

Multiple aims, including exploration of relationships between children’s developmental outcomes and their non-parental care and school experiences

United States

Sample consists of children from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

Asian/Pacific Islander and Chinese children, moderately low-birth weight children (1,500–2,500 grams), very low birth weight children (under 1,500 grams) and twins were oversampled.

Baseline data was collected when children were approximately 9 months of age (2001), at 2 years of age (2003) and pre-school age (year before school, 2005).

Subsample of children was selected for observation in formal child care settings.

Nationally representative sample of nearly four million children born in the United States in calendar year 2001, of which approximately 10,221 children were directly assessed in Wave 1.

Carer/teacher interviews

ITERS

ECERS

Cognitive development

Bayley Short Form

Direct cognitive assessment

Socio-emotional

Nursing Child Assessment Teaching Scale (NCATS)

Two Bags Task

Behaviour Rating Scale

Toddler–Attachment Sort

(TAS-45)

Physical development

Bayley Short Form

Direct assessment

No published findings relating to effects of child care on child outcomes.

N/A

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Families, Children and Child Care Study (FCCC)

To examine the short and longer-term effects of child care on children’s development between birth and school entry

Two research sites: North London and the other in Oxfordshire, UK

Prospective longitudinal

Selective oversampling of low socioeconomic status mothers

Information about the children was collected at 3, 10, 18, 30, 36 and 51 months

1,201 infants (599 boys and 602 girls)

ECERS

FDCRS

HOME

Care giver Interaction Scale (CIS)

Care history and current arrangements

Quality (structural aspects)

Parental satisfaction

Cost of care

Weekly child care log

Carer–parent relationships

Cognitive development

British Ability Scales

Bayley Mental Scale

MacCarthur Communicative Development Inventory

Physical development

Poor health (for example, illnesses)

Bayley subscales

Socio-emotional development

Adaptive Social Behaviour

Behaviour Screening Questionnaire

Inventory

Pre-school— Behaviour Checklist (PBCL)

Behaviour Checklist (BCL)

Strengths and Difficulties Scale

Child observation

No published findings relating to effects of child care on child outcomes.

N/A

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centres Study (CQO)

Longitudinal phase began in 1993

To examine the complex relationships between children’s experiences in centre-based child care and school and their social, emotional and cognitive outcomes

United States

Information gathered at five time points—during children’s last two years in child care (pre-school 1 and pre-school 2), kindergarten, first and second grade

51 per cent retention at fifth data collection point

826 pre-schoolers in their next-to-last year of child care

ECERS-Early Childhood Observation Form (ECOF)

Care giver Interaction Scale (CIS)

Adult Involvement Scale (AIS)

Instructional Environment Observation Scales

Peer Play Scale

Student–Teacher Relationship Scale (STRS)

Teacher beliefs

Cognitive development

Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test–Revised (PPVT-R)

Subtests from the Woodcock–Johnson Tests of Achievement Revised (WJ-R)

Social development

Assessment of Social Behaviour

Classroom Behaviour Inventory (CBI)

High quality child care continues to be positively related to children’s performance well into their school careers.

Children who have traditionally been at risk of not doing well in school are affected more by the quality of child care experiences than other children.

The quality of child care classroom practices was related to children’s cognitive development, while the closeness of the child care teacher–child relationship influenced children’s social development through the early school years.

Peisner-Feinberg et al. (2001)

Child Care Choices

To examine the use and effects of multiple and changeable child care on children under 3 years

Multiple care is additional to the use of formal child care in long day care or family day care.

Changeable child care includes the changes to hours or place of child care as well as changes within care settings.

New South Wales, Australia

Longitudinal design

Sites located in metropolitan Sydney and the Central West and Far West regions of New South Wales

699 children aged between birth and 4 years

ITERS and ECERS

Observational ratings of care quality

Carer characteristics

Student–Teacher Relationship Scale (STRS)

Child care quality (structural aspects)

Parent-rated communication (Vineland)

Parent and carer-rated social competence

(Gresham & Elliot)

Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised at age 3+

Woodcock–Johnson tests at age 4+

Story and print

awareness

Greater time in care is related to social competence, including better adaptive play and more angry/aggressive interactions (different groups of children).

No significant effects for observed quality of child care for social competence or communication outcome measures.

Bowes et al. (2004)

Bowes et al. 2009

Ungerer et al. (2006)

Wise et al. 2005

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Competent Children Competent Learners (CCCL)

1992

To describe and analyse variations and changes over time in children’s cognitive, social, communicative and problem-solving competencies and the impact of children’s early childhood experiences, family resources, home activities, relations with peers and engagement in school on these competencies

New Zealand

Phase I—(just before age 5)

Phase II—(age 6)

Phase III—(age 8)

Phase IV—(age 10)

Phase V—(age 12)

Phase VI—(age 14)

Phase VII—(age 16)

Phase I participants: 307 children from the Wellington region recruited at near 5 years of age and attending early childhood education

Staff–child interaction

Self-esteem

Program focus

Physical environment, resources and safety

Quality (structural indices)

Service type

Curriculum goals and approaches

Staff–parent communication and parent involvement

Cognitive development

Observation ratings of inquisitiveness and perseverance

Communication assessments (receptive and expressive)

Spivack & Shure (1974) task-shortened version

Mathematics assessment (derived from SENS instrument—Beginning School Mathematics program)

Literacy (four of six reading tasks taken from Clay, 1981 diagnostic tasks)

Logical problem solving (11 tasks from the ‘Ravens’ Coloured Progressive Matrices)

Physical development

South Australian Motor Skills Test—The Carolina Curriculum, Preschool Developmental Profile

The Early LAP

Socio-emotional development

Observation ratings of interactions with peers and adults, level of play, exploration of materials/language and aggressive behaviour

Independence, relations with peers/adults

Competencies were affected by the length of early childhood education experience, the quality of early childhood education, type of EC service attended and cost of service to family.

Children in early childhood services which were rated low quality were less likely than others to engage in exploration, more sophisticated levels of play or have language extended in interaction with adults. More aggressive behaviour was also observed.

Wylie, Thompson & Kerslake Hendricks (1996)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Göteborg Child Care Study

1982–1983

To determine the long-term effects of early entry into out-of-home care on cognitive abilities

Sub-study (n=52) assessed the short and long-term effects of early child care experiences on children’s social development

Göteborg, Sweden

1 to 2 year-old children followed for seven years

Phase I—12 to 24 months old

Phase II—1 year later

Phase III—2 years later

Phase IV—prior to school (6 1/2 years old in Sweden)

Phase 5—8 1/2 years old

146 children recruited from waiting lists of public child care facilities

Between 12 and 24 months old, first born, living with both parents and not attending regular day care before the study

Spot Observation Checklist

Structural aspects of child care quality

Extent of care

Verbal ability

Language subscale of Griffiths Developmental Scales

Reading and vocabulary subscales of a Standardised School Readiness Test (Ljungblad 1989)

Mathematical ability

Numerical subscale of Standardised School Readiness Test (Ljungblad 1989)

Social development

California Child Q-Set

Preschool Behaviour Q-Sort

High quality child care has positive effects on cognitive development.

Children who spent more months in centre-based care before they were 40 months old obtained higher scores on tests of cognitive ability than other children.

For children who had spent three or more years in child care prior to school, the quality of the service also impacted cognitive development.

Process measures of quality predicted verbal abilities whereas structural measures predicted mathematical abilities.

Cognitive abilities were enhanced by increased paternal involvement.

Social competence with peers was relatively stable from 31/2 to 15 years of age, regardless of early child care experiences.

Until social competence stabilises between 31/2 and 6 years of age, amount and quality of child care may play an important role in shaping children’s social skills.

Broberg et al. (1997)

Campbell, Lamb & Hwang (2000)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Bermuda Child Care Study

To examine the consequences for children’s social development of attending child care centres that varied widely in quality; to identify specific indicators of child care quality; to determine whether associations between quality and child outcomes are determined by children’s day care experience or family background.

Bermuda

3-month study, each centre visited three times

166 children in nine centres

78 per cent black Bermudians and 22 per cent white Bermudians

Ages 3 to 5 1/2 years

Staff–child ratios

Director experience

Care giver turnover

Child–adult verbal interactions

ECERS

Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test—Revised

Preschool Language Assessment Instrument

Preschool Behaviour Questionnaire

Classroom Behaviour Inventory

Children in higher quality care were rated by their parents as more considerate and sociable.

Children in higher quality care were rated by their teachers as more intelligent, more task oriented and more anxious.

Quality of care was predictive of verbal and intellectual development.

Age of entry and time in day care were poor predictors of children's development.

Amount of adult–child verbal interaction was a strong predictor of positive child outcomes.

Director experience was a strong predictor of positive child outcomes.

Verbal intelligence and language development was affected by staff–child ratios.

Phillips, Scarr & McCartney (1987)

Japanese Study of Extended Child Care

To compare effects of typical versus extended hours of care on children’s development over a two-year period.

Japan

Two-year study

Children recruited from all 24-hour night care centres (n=41)

Excluded children with disabilities

648 children aged 0 to 5 years

Hours in care (normal <12 vs. extended 12+)

Hours/day

Length time in care

Stability

Regularity of attendance

Quality

Carer ratings of social competence, communication with carers and peers, vocabulary, motor skills and intelligence

Parent involvement and activities with children was a stronger predictor of child outcomes than time in care.

Anme & Segal (2004)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Sydney Family Development Project (SFDP)

To describe the use of child care over time and examine the effects of type, amount and stability of child care on child socio-emotional development and school adjustment

New South Wales, Australia

12-year longitudinal study

Primiparous mothers and their partners recruited in mid-trimester of pregnancy

145 infants (12 months)

136 children at age 2 1/2 years

127 children at school-age, end of first year of school

Parent descriptions of care type (formal and informal)

ITERS observations of quality at age 2 1/2 years

Structural measures of quality and Belsky spot check for quality practices

Infant–mother attachment at 12 months

Observed child–peer and child–carer interaction at 2 1/2 years

Parent-rated behaviour problems at 5 years (CBCL)

Teacher/carer-rated aspects of school adjustment at 6 years

Teacher–child relationship (Student–Teacher Rating Scale)

Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (6 years)

Child-rated School Liking and Avoidance

Infant–mother attachment security was more positive for children who had attended formal child care settings.

Mother-rated behaviour problems were not associated with care type, quality or stability.

Teacher/carer-rated adjustment to the learning expectations of school linked to attendance at formal child care in the first 2 1/2 years.

Longer hours of care in the first 2 1/2 years linked to poorer academic and learning outcomes (teacher/carer-rated).

Consistent pattern of more changes to child care from birth to age 6 was associated with more disruptive behaviour at school.

Harrison & Ungerer (1997, 2000)

Love et al. (2003)

Stockholm Child Care Study

To determine the long-term effects of day care on children’s cognitive, social and personal development

Sweden

Families recruited from eight neighbourhoods representing low and middle-resource areas

Study completed when children reached age 8—retention rate=93 per cent

Retrospective child care data collected for first few years of life

Child outcomes assessed at age 8

128 families from Stockholm and Göteborg whose child was between 3 and 4 years old at the beginning of the study

 

Cognitive

Verbal and non-verbal tests

Teacher ratings of school performance on reading, writing, arithmetic, general subjects, music and physical education

Teacher ratings of social skills

Children who entered child care at an early age had higher scores on cognitive tests and were rated more positively on social–personal attributes by their teachers than children who entered child care at a later age or did not use child care.

Andersson (1989)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Norwegian Study of Maternal Employment and Child Care

To examine the prevalence and persistence of behaviour problems amongst children at ages 4, 7, and 10 years; to assess relations between behaviour problems and maternal employment, preschool day care, SES, and child sex, intelligence.

Norway

Prospective longitudinal study of children from the preschool period until 10 years of age

140 children, comprising all children born in 1981 in the identified municipality

Type of day care from birth to 4 years; hours of care

Behaviour Screening questionnaire (Richman & Graham 1971); McCarthy Scales of children’s abilities; Rutter Child Scales

Day care centre experience at a later age was associated with lower levels of behaviour problems, as perceived by parents.

Higher levels of maternal employment in the first 4 years (when child care was typically provided by kith and kin) were associated with higher levels of behaviour problems as reported by teachers at age 10 years.

Borge & Melhuish (1995)

Growing Up in Poverty

1998–2000

To describe and measure the effects of welfare reform on children and their mothers

To assess how child care may influence youngsters’ development

To make recommendations regarding new family policy and child care

California, Connecticut and Florida, US

Two-year study

Assessments conducted when children were 21/2 years old (baseline) and at age 4

451 families participated in both waves of data collection

Child care exposure, type and stability

ECERS

FDCRS

Arnett Scale of Care giver Behaviour

Quality (structural indices)

Cognitive development

MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory

Bracken Basic Concept Scale

Family and Child Experiences Scale (FACES)

Mother assessed school readiness

Social development

Child behaviour Checklist (CBCL)

Children who spent more time enrolled in centres or preschools, particularly those rated more highly on observed quality indicators, displayed higher rates of cognitive development, compared to children who remained in home-based child care.

Teacher education was associated with stronger social development.

Loeb et al. (2004)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Haifa Study of Early Child Care

To examine the unique contribution of various child care-related correlates to the nature and quality of infant–mother attachment security.

Haifa, Israel

Inclusion criteria were non-risk pregnancy, full term baby, singleton (not twins, and so on) and healthy

Participants covered all SES groups

Sub-study (n =151) involving children in centre care

758 infants recruited over a one-year period from three hospitals in the Greater Haifa Metropolitan Area

Child care type

Age of entry

Extent of non-maternal child care between 3 and 12 months of age

Stability of care

Multiplicity

Infant–adult ratio

Infant–mother attachment (Strange Situation)

Centre-care infants were significantly more likely to become insecurely attached to their mothers as compared with infants who were using other types of child care and exclusive maternal care.

The very high infant–care giver ratio that accounted for the increased level of attachment insecurity among centre-care infants.

Sagi et al. (2002)

Koren-Karie, Sagi-Schwartz & Egoz-Mizrachi (2005)

US Study of Cortisol Activity

To study younger children in child care in order to identify the factors affecting the rising pattern of cortisol over the child care day.

United States

 

20 infants and 35 toddlers in full-day, centre-based child care

Full-day child care

ECERS ratings of quality

Staff-to-child ratios

Salivary cortisol collected at 10 am and 4 pm at home and in child care

Observations of behaviour, play, affect

Temperament (IBQ, TBAQ)

Salivary cortisol levels increase over the course of the day for most toddlers enrolled in full-day child care and decrease in the same toddlers at home.

Teacher-reported social fearfulness predicted higher afternoon cortisol and larger cortisol increases across the day at child care.

Quality of care determines whether cortisol levels rise over the course of the day in full-day child care.

Watamura, Donzella & Alwin. (2003)

Gunnar et al. (2003)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

West Australia Study of Cortisol Activity

Impact of relational dimensions of child care quality on children’s stress levels

Western Australia

Children samples across 16 centres

117 3 to 6 year-old children attending centres three days per week

Subset of QAIS quality principles (observation)

Salivary cortisol

Cortisol levels of children attending high quality programs demonstrated a decline across the child care day.

Levels in children attending unsatisfactory programs demonstrated an increase across the day.

Sims, Guilfoyle & Parry (2006)

Early Childhood Mental Health Program Study

To evaluate the long-term cumulative effects of child care on children’s mental development and socio-emotional adjustment from birth to 4.5 years

Washington, US

Data gathered when children were 4 1/2 years old

113 first-born, non-risk, middle-class preschool children from Washington area

Child care history (from birth to time of data collection)

Mothers’ reason for using child care

Language comprehension

Test of Language Development—Primary (TOLD-P)

Cognitive development

MacCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities

Socio-emotional adjustment

Preschool Behaviour Questionnaire

Hours of non-maternal care were not a predictor of mental development or socio-emotional adjustment.

For cognitive outcomes, the child-to-care giver ratio exerted a positive effect on children from higher SES backgrounds versus no effect on children from average or lower SES backgrounds.

For behavioural adjustment outcomes, a higher child-to-care giver ratio was associated with fewer behaviour problems in girls and more behavioural problems in boys.

Bornstein et al. (2006)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY)

Cohort 1 (1994)

Cohort 2 (1998)

Cohort 3 (2000)

To determine the prevalence of various biological, social and economic characteristics and risk factors of children and youth in Canada, and the impact of these risk factors, life events and protective factors on the development of these children

Sub-study authored by Kohen, Lipps & Hertzman (2006)

aimed to examine patterns of ECCE used by 2 to 3 year olds, the family demographics of children who use the various forms of care and the association between children’s adjustment to kindergarten and their ECCE experiences

10 provinces across Canada

In 1994 (cohort 1), a random sample of 15,579 Canadian households with at least one child aged 0 to 11 years was selected from Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey for the NLSCY

Cohort 1 (0 to 11 years)

Cohorts 2 and 3 (0 to 1 year old)

Total sample (3 cohorts)=30,800

Participants in Kohen, Lipps & Hertzman (2006) subsample=1,207

Hours of participation in ECCE

Type of ECCE attended

Cognitive development

PPVT-R

Who am I?

Number knowledge assessments

Kindergarten teacher rankings

Social/behavioural development

Child Behaviour

Checklist (CBCL)

Ten-item scale of pro-social behaviour

Kindergarten teacher rankings

Physical development

Kindergarten teacher rankings

Motor and Social Development (MSD) scores for 0 to 47 months

Children from low SES family backgrounds who participated in some form of ECCE programs rated higher in teachers’ measures of competence and academic skills and had lower levels of behaviour problems reported by parents than those who did not participate in any ECCE programs.

No single form of ECCE program was associated with significantly greater or worse child outcomes.

No correlation between the number of hours spent in child care and school readiness.

Among children who did attend child care, those from higher income families had better cognitive outcomes than those from lower income families.

Lefebvre & Merrigan (2002)

Gagne (2003)

Borge et al. (2004)

Kohen, Lipps & Hertzman (2006)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec (QLSCD)

1998–2002

To understand the precursors that help children adapt to school, to define the path of adaptation and to evaluate its medium and long-term effects

Quebec, Canada

Cohort selected from birth registry

Representative sample of children born in Quebec between 1 October 1997 and 31 July 1998

Comparable and complementary to the Canadian NLSCY

Annual data collection

Children followed until aged 5 years

2,223 children sampled at 5 months of age

ECERS

FDCRS

Child care type

Child care attendance

 

61 per cent of child care facilities met the minimal requirement, 12 per cent were inadequate and 27 per cent were rated as good or excellent.

Children in families in the lowest income bracket are less likely to be in child care.

Children from less privileged backgrounds are more likely to be in inadequate child care facilities.

Japel, Tremblay & Côté (2005)

Netherlands Longitudinal Twin Study

Genetic and environment influences on the development and behaviour problems in families with of 3 to 12 year-old twins

Netherlands

Families are volunteers of the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)

Child care data collected when children were aged 5 years

Behavioural data collected when children aged 3, 5, 7 and 10 years

Analyses based on child care in first three years

Approximately 9,000

Child care type

Age of entry, frequency

Behavioural development

Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL)

At 3 years, children with non-parental child care experiences had more externalising problems than children with exclusive parental care.

Children with larger amounts of child care did not show more behaviour problems.

Effect sizes between 1.2 and 0.2.

Van Beijsterveldt, Hudziak & Boomsma (2005)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS–K)

1998–1999

Four main research themes:

(i) school readiness

(ii) children’s cognitive development

(iii) children’s transitions to kindergarten, first grade and beyond

(iv) relationship between children’s kindergarten experience and subsequent school performance

United States

Nationally representative sample

Oversample of Asian children and private kindergartens

Approximately 22,000 children enrolled in 1,000 kindergarten programs during the 1998–1999 school year

Teacher demographic background

Teaching practices

Teaching experience

Classroom setting

Physical, organisational and fiscal characteristics of the school

Learning environment and school program

Physical and psychomotor development

Height and weight

Fine motor skills

Gross motor skills

Socio-emotional development

Social skills

Problem behaviours

Approaches to learning

Cognitive development

Language and literacy

Mathematics

General knowledge

Kindergarten transition practices were found to have a modest positive effect on both child academic outcomes and parent-initiated school involvement, regardless of SES.

The effect of transition practices on academic achievement for children from average to low-income families was stronger than those effects for high-income children.

Parent and child classroom visits prior to the beginning of the year were found to have the most significant positive effect on later academic achievement.

Attending centre care was associated with positive gains in pre-reading and math skills, but negative social behaviour.

Across economic levels, children who start centre care between ages 2 and 3 see greater gains than those who start centres earlier or later.

Starting centre care earlier than age 2 is related to more pronounced negative social effects.

Results for centre intensity vary by income levels and race (for example, poor and middle-income children see academic gains from attending centre care intensively (more than 30 hours a week), but wealthier children do not; and while intense centre negatively impacts black and white children’s social development, it does not have any negative impact for Hispanic children.

Schulting, Malone & Dodge (2005)

Loeb et al. (2005)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE)

1997–2003

EPPE explored five questions:

(i) what is the impact of preschool on children’s intellectual and social/behavioural development?

(ii) are some preschools more effective than others in promoting children’s development?

(iii) what are the characteristics of an effective preschool setting?

(iv) what is the impact of the home and child care history on children’s development?

(iv) do the effects of preschool continue through ages 6 and 7?

United Kingdom

Six English Local Authorities (LAs) in five regions chosen strategically to participate in the research. Selected to cover urban, suburban and rural areas and a range of ethnic diversity and social disadvantages

Six main types of provision were included combining care and education

Centres were selected randomly within each type of provision in each LA

Sampling designed to enable comparison of centre and type of provision

Children and their families were randomly selected in each centre for the research

2,800 children and 141 centres

More than 300 ‘home’ children with no or minimal preschool

Total sample=3,171 children

Quality (structural indices)

Aims

Policies

Curriculum

Parental involvement

ECERS–R

Care giver Interaction Scale (CIS)

Cognitive development

British Ability Scales II

Verbal and non-verbal comprehension

Spatial awareness

Early number concepts

Early literacy skills

Social/behavioural outcomes

Independence and concentration

Cooperation and conformity

Peer sociability

Anti-social/worried behaviour

Cognitive development

For pre-reading and early number concepts, children from some ethnic minority groups (including black Caribbean and black African), and children for whom English is an additional language (EAL) made greater progress during preschool than white UK children or those for whom English is a first language.

Results for children identified as ‘at risk’ of special education needs (SEN) show much better attainment than similarly disadvantaged children in the home sample at the start of primary school.

The Home Learning Environment exerts a significant and independent influence on outcomes at 3 years and later at the start of primary school, and on progress over the preschool period. The specific centre attended affects cognitive progress. Centre effects are larger for pre-reading followed by early number concepts, possibly reflecting different emphases between individual settings in curriculum provision and the priority accorded to different types of activities.

Children who start preschool at a younger age (below 3 years) had significantly higher age-adjusted cognitive outcomes at age 3 than those who started at an older age, and this advantage continued through entry to primary school. However, starting before age 2 was not more advantageous than starting between 2 and 3 years of age.

Sylva et al. (2003)

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The number of months children attended preschool from entry to the study (age 3) to starting school was positively associated with cognitive outcomes. Intensity (that is, full-time versus part-time) was not a significant predictor of outcomes.

Higher ECERS–E and subscale scores positively related to pre-reading, early number concepts and non-verbal reasoning.

CIS subscale positive relationships related to greater pre-reading progress, while scales assessing negative aspects of adult–child relationships predicted poorer progress in pre-reading and number concepts.

Quality effects were similar across SES and educationally advantaged and disadvantaged groups.

Outcomes better for integrated centres (combined care and education) and nursery schools. Both these types showed higher scores in observed quality.

Better adult–child ratios associated with better early number concepts.

Percentage of trained teacher staff hours associated positively with progress in pre-reading.

Home children’s cognitive outcomes at school entry are poorer than those of children who attended any of the six types of provision studied.

Social/behavioural development.

 

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Home Learning Environment significantly predicts social/behavioural development at the start of primary school, and is generally a stronger predictor than other family factors (for example, mother’s education).

Higher overall ECERS–R associated with better ‘cooperation’ and ‘conformity’.

ECERS–R subscales (social interaction and language and reasoning) are associated with better social/behavioural outcomes at primary school entry.

CIS scores (especially positive relationships) predicted better outcomes on 3 of the 4 social/behavioural scales (except ‘Anti-social/worried’).

Children attending integrated provision or nursery classes had better outcomes.

Higher staff qualifications have a positive influence on young children’s social/behavioural outcomes.

Children who spent longer in preschool (measured from start date at target preschool centre to date started at primary school) were rated by class teachers as showing more ‘Anti-social/worried’ behaviour at primary school entry. Higher quality reduces, but does not eliminate, this effect.

Significant positive relationship between percentage of trained staff hours and young children’s social/behavioural development.

Trained staff hours associated with decrease in ‘Anti-social/worried’ behaviour.

Home children’s social behaviour rated as significantly poorer in terms of three areas of social development than those of children who attended any of the six types of preschool provision studied.

 

 

 
Study Purpose Location Design features Sample Child care measures Child outcome measures Major findings Key references

Study of Oklahoma’s universal pre-K program

1998

To examine the overall effect of the pre-kindergarten program (full day and half day) on school readiness for children of diverse race, ethnicity and family income

Oklahoma, US

 

1,567 pre-kindergarten children and 1,461 kindergarten children who had just completed pre-kindergarten in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Full or half day participation in pre-kindergarten program

Subtests from the Woodcock–Johnson Achievement Test

The pre-kindergarten programs (full and half day) were found to enhance school readiness for children in all ethnic backgrounds and income brackets.

Gormley Jr et al. (2005)

National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79)

NLSY commenced 1979

Survey pertaining to children born to NLSY79 female respondents first administered in 1986

To study in detail the longitudinal experiences of a particular age group of young Americans, and analyse the disparate life course experiences of such groups as women, Hispanics, blacks and the economically disadvantaged

The NLSY mothers and children provide data about the linkages between maternal–family behaviours and attitudes and subsequent child development.

Information has been collected from NLSY mothers about the birth and early childhood of their children.

In 1986, a battery of child cognitive, socio-emotional and physiological assessments was added and is now administered bi-annually.

United States

Nationally representative sample

12,686 young men and young women who were 14 to 22 years of age when first surveyed in 1979

Types of child care utilised by female respondents

Types of child care payments incurred

Number of hours and/or days spent in child care

Child care experiences and child care arrangements during the first three years of life for all children of at least 1 year of age

HOME

Behaviour Problems Index

Self-Perception—Profile for Children

Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT)

Children with early and extensive maternal employment/child care experience were significantly more non-compliant than age mates without such early experience.

Belsky (1986, 1988b)

[ Return to Top   Return to Section ]

Appendix B: Extract from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children data users guide version 2.1

Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children

Report on Adapted PPVT -III and Who Am I?

Sheldon Rothman

Australian Council for Educational Research

[ top ]

Part A: Wave 1 scoring

The first wave of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) used two tests with the four-year-old sample. The Adapted PPVT-III is a shortened version of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, Third Edition (Dunn & Dunn, 1997), which is a test of receptive vocabulary used as a screening test of verbal ability. This adaptation is based on work done in the United States for the Head Start Impact Study, with a number of changes for use in Australia. Who Am I? (de Lemos & Doig, 2000) assesses the cognitive processes that underlie the learning of early literacy and numeracy skills. One item was added to the standard Who Am I? booklet for use in LSAC. Summary statistics for each test are shown in Table B1.

Table Description

Table B1: Summary Statistics for Administration of Adapted PPVT-III and Who Am I? tests as part of LSAC Wave 1
  Adapted PPVT Who Am I?
Number of cases 4407 4827
Mean scaled scores 64.2 (se=0.123) 63.8 (se=0.125)
Mean number of items correct/mean raw score 28.2 (se=0.086) 25.6 (se=0.103)
Minimum number of items correct 2 0
Maximum number of items correct 40 44
Reliability 0.76 0.89

Note: For the Adapted PPVT-III, it was assumed that children who were not required to answer 10 ‘basal’ items had answered these items correctly. Reliability reported here is the person separation reliability (Wright & Masters, 1982).

Adapted PPVT -III

The PPVT-III was adapted for use in LSAC by altering the administration procedures, reducing the number of items administered during testing. To determine which items to retain for the adapted version, 215 children aged from 41 to 66 months (mean=54.7 months) were given the PPVT-III, with test administrators following standard procedures. After testing, a one-parameter (Rasch) item response model was fitted to the data, which consisted of correct and incorrect responses. The person separation reliability was 0.88. After determining the ‘best’ 40 items for use in a shortened version, the remaining items were then fit again to a one-parameter item response model; the person separation reliability decreased to 0.78.

Development of the model suggested that 37 per cent of children would require only the core set of items, 5 per cent would require the core and basal sets, and 58 per cent would require the core and ceiling sets, resulting in an average of 26.3 items administered. The Pearson product-moment correlation between the full PPVT-III and the adapted PPVT-III was 0.93 for all children, and 0.91 for four year-olds.1

Scaling

The adapted PPVT-III was scaled using a two-stage process. In the first stage, only the core set of 20 items was used, as these items had been administered to all children. For these core items, Rasch estimates were determined for each item, providing an indication of their difficulty. In the second stage, all 40 items were fitted, using the item estimates for the core items as anchors. This gave item estimates for the basal and ceiling items relative to the core items. The final case estimates were then transformed to a scale with a mean of 64 and standard deviation of 8.

Results

In Wave 1, 4,407 children were administered the Adapted PPVT-III. Children ranged in age from 43 months to 79 months (mean=57.3); 21 per cent were aged 60 months or older. Twenty-one per cent of children were administered only the core set, 1 per cent the core and basal sets, and 78 per cent the core and ceiling sets, resulting in an average of 27.9 items. The test had a person separation reliability of 0.76.

Quality of the test

The statistics indicate that the core and ceiling items used for the Adapted PPVT-III test fit the Rasch model well. This is shown in Figure B1, the item fit map. The infit mean square ranged from 0.86 to 1.17 for items 11–30 (the core set) and items 31–40 (the ceiling set). On each of the items in the basal set (items 1–10), the infit mean square was extremely low (0.49 or less) because only 30 children (1 per cent) were administered these items; all other children were assumed to have correctly answered these items. The item map in Figure B1, which shows the item estimates (difficulties) mapped against the case estimates (children’s ability levels), shows that the basal items were appropriate for children given that set, but that the core and ceiling items were relatively easy for those who were given those sets.

Figure Description

Figure B1: Item fit map for all items on the Australian adaptation of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) calibrated with all cases anchored to core items

  Figure B1: Item fit map for all items on the Australian adaptation of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) calibrated with all cases anchored to core items

Who Am I?

Who Am I? consisted of 11 pages on which children were to write their names, copy shapes and write words and numbers. Each response was assessed on a four-point scale relating to the skill required for the task. A score of zero was assigned if no attempt was made on the item. The data were fit using a partial credit item response model. The final case estimates were transformed to a scale with a mean of 64 and standard deviation of 8. Summary statistics are shown in Table B1.

In Wave 1, 4,827 children were administered Who Am I? The test had a person separation reliability of 0.89.

Quality of the test

The statistics indicate that the Who Am I? data fit the rating scale model well, with most items falling within acceptable ranges, as shown in Figure B2. The most difficult item on the test was item 10, in which children were asked to write a sentence. Only 9 children received 4 points for their response; more than one-half of children made no attempt on this item. This is also shown in the item fit map (Figure B2): item 10 (Sentence) has an infit mean square of 1.67, while all other items ranged from 0.77 to 1.14.

Figure Description

Figure B2: Item fit map for all items on the Who Am I? test

Figure B2: Item fit map for all items on the Who Am I? test

Analysis of a partial credit model provides information on the thresholds required to move from any score to a higher score on each item. This information is provided in Figure B2, the item map, and is plotted against the distribution of case estimates. For all items, higher scores had higher logit values, indicating that higher scores were achieved by children who had higher ability estimates. The item map also indicates that the distribution of children (on the left) was only slightly above the distribution of the items (on the right), indicating that there was a good match between the difficulty of the items and the children’s ability levels.

Correlation between the Adapted PPVT -III and Who Am I?

The two tests had a Pearson product-moment correlation of 0.309, based on 4,386 children who received scores on both tests. While significant at the 0.01 level, this is considered a low-to-moderate correlation.

Sheldon Rothman

ACER, 16 March 2005

Figure Description

Figure B3: Item map for all cases on the Who Am I? test

  Figure B3: Item map for all cases on the Who Am I? test

Part B: Wave 2 PPVT development

This paper describes the procedures used to develop a shortened version of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) for use in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), Growing Up in Australia. This version of the test is to be used with six year-olds as part of the second wave of LSAC and is linked to the shortened version developed in 2003 for use with four year-olds as part of the first wave of LSAC.2 The concept of a shortened version of the PPVT is from work done in the United States for the Head Start Impact Study. The original work was described in a draft paper by Philip Fletcher of Westat.

Procedures

All procedures described below are based on procedures used for the version used with four year-olds. For that version, four alternative sets of items were tested; one set was developed for use in LSAC. For the six year-old version, no alternative sets were used as the scope of the project was to develop a test that could be linked to the four year-old version.

As done for the test administered to four year-olds, the purpose was to deve zlop a test that would consist of 40 items divided into a core set of 20 items, a basal set of 10 items for children who miss a minimum number of items on the core set, and a ceiling set of 10 items for children who correctly answer a minimum number of items on the core set. No child would take more than 30 items. It was also decided that at least 50 per cent of children should be required to take the core set only.

Testing

A sample comprising 421 children was drawn from schools in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. During July and August 2005 the children were administered the full version of the PPVT-III, Form A, using the standard procedures for administering the test to six year-olds. These children ranged in age from 5 years, 7 months to 7 years, 11 months. Seventy-eight per cent of the children were six years old, and 18 per cent were 7 years old. All children were in the same classes at the schools involved in the data collection. Subsequent examination of the data showed that the children from out-of-range ages did not appear as significantly different cases.

Analysis

Test items were examined using a one-parameter logistic IRT model with the software Quest. For items below the PPVT basal set that were not administered, all were marked as correct. Items with a low number of responses were eliminated from the IRT analysis. Overall, 132 items were used for analysis, as they covered a range that would allow 40 items to be selected and included the items administered in the four year-old test.

Selection of items

The properties of the items were then determined, based on the data available from the Quest output. The first stage was to identify link items from the four year-old test that could be used with the six year-olds. For the 20 items of the core set, 8 items that had appeared in the four year-old test were selected. These items were selected on the basis of infit mean square and outfit mean square close to 1.00 in both administrations, the degree of difficulty on the items among both groups, the consistency of change between the administration to the groups, and the ability to provide a reasonable spread across the core set. Two items from the four year-old test were selected for the basal set, and one item from the four year-old test was selected for the ceiling set.

After the link items were selected, the remaining items were selected using those with infit mean square and outfit mean square close to 1.00, good discrimination and an ability to provide a reasonable range of item difficulties (–2.50 to +2.50). Items were also selected according to their position in the original PPVT sets and their parts of speech: nouns, verbs and adjectives. The final 20 core items were then positioned into two sets of 10 items, with the first 10 items generally easier than the second 10 items, but with an overlap of item estimates. Similar analyses were done to select the 10 basal and 10 ceiling items.

Table Description

Table B2: Items selected for Adaptive PPVT-III for use with 6 year-olds in LSAC
Set PPVT-III Form A item number Item Item threshold Infit mean square
Core 1 42 harp* -2.55 1.01
  74 nostril* -2.29 0.96
  56 furry* -2.08 0.96
  52 diving* -1.99 1.02
  78 horrified* -1.44 0.99
  67 calculator -0.38 1.10
  77 towing -0.12 1.02
  91 clarinet -0.02 1.07
  107 fern 0.53 1.03
  118 archery 0.88 0.98
Core 2 66 swamp* -0.47 1.13
  90 interviewing* -0.20 1.00
  96 vine* 0.10 0.97
  88 surprised 0.61 1.02
  68 signal 0.91 1.03
  114 injecting 0.97 0.99
  128 wailing 1.29 0.94
  131 foundation 1.85 0.98
  140 pastry 2.33 0.99
  125 valve 2.74 0.98
Basal 45 juggling -4.98 0.74
  32 fountain* -3.85 0.97
  40 farm* -3.26 0.99
  47 tearing -2.98 0.77
  49 parachute -2.19 0.93
  71 vegetable -1.70 1.04
  57 drilling -1.62 0.92
  61 vehicle -1.30 0.99
  75 vase -1.21 0.94
  85 flamingo -0.52 0.97
Ceiling 122 dilapidated* 1.11 0.98
  97 pedal 1.85 1.03
  149 abrasive 1.97 1.09
  143 pedestrian 2.07 0.97
  117 microscope 2.15 1.07
  153 detonation 2.69 0.94
  151 cascade 2.96 0.91
  139 consuming 3.57 1.04
  148 replenishing 4.58 1.14
  167 talon - - - -

*Link item included in test for 4 year olds

Note: Item threshold and infit mean square statistics are from the simulated test.

Simulations

Simulation results were then calculated in SPSS. With the objective of having approximately 50 per cent of children requiring only the core set of 20 items, the items were checked to determine percentages of children requiring the basal or ceiling sets. Rules governing the administration of the test, particularly those regarding the number of correct items required for administration of the basal or ceiling sets, also guided the selection of items. The simulation suggests that approximately 25 per cent of children will require the ceiling set, 10 per cent the basal set and 65 per cent the core only. It should be noted that similar targets for the four year-olds were not achieved in the first wave of LSAC, with more than 65 per cent of children requiring the ceiling set.

Once the 40 items were selected, a new IRT analysis was conducted using only those items. Case and item estimates showed that the model fit the data well.

Results for the two versions—the full PPVT and the adapted version—were then compared: the full PPVT raw score with the case estimates from both the full test and the adapted test. The lowest correlation was 0.887; most correlations were in the 0.93 to 0.97 range, suggesting that the adapted version of the PPVT provides similar results to the full PPVT.

Figure Description

Figure B4: Scatterplot showing joint distribution of scores on simulated adaptive PPVT-III and scores on full PPVT-III for 6 year olds

Figure B4: Scatterplot showing joint distribution of scores on simulated adaptive PPVT-III and scores on full PPVT-III for 6 year olds

Comment

The six year-old version of the adaptive PPVT-III for use in LSAC was developed so that it can be linked with the four year-old version of the test. This allows the measurement of growth between administrations of the test. Forty items were selected for the test, with 20 items administered to all children as the core set (core sets 1 and 2). For children who make 15 to 20 errors an additional basal set of 10 items is administered and for children who make 0 to 6 errors an additional ceiling set of 10 items is administered. Simulations showed that approximately two-thirds (67 per cent) of children would require only the core sets, 7 per cent would require the core and basal sets, and 26 per cent would require the core and ceiling sets; this distribution was considered in the selection of items.

Sheldon Rothman

Principal Research Fellow

9 November 2005

Endnotes

  1. Rothman, S. (June 2003). An Australian version of the Adaptive PPVT-III for use in research. Unpublished paper. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.
  2. Sheldon Rothman, An Australian Version of the Adaptive PPVT-III for Use in Research, unpublished paper (Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research, June 2003).

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Appendix C: LSAC Research Consortium

Members of the LSAC Research Consortium are:

Dr John Ainley, Deputy Director, Australian Council for Educational Research

Professor Donna Berthelsen, Centre for Applied Studies in Early Childhood, Queensland University of Technology

Professor Michael Bittman, Department of Sociology, University of New England

Dr Bruce Bradbury, Senior Research Fellow, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales

Associate Professor Linda Harrison, School of Teacher Education, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst

Associate Professor Jan Nicholson, Principal Research Fellow, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne

Professor Bryan Rodgers, The Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, Australian National University

Professor Ann Sanson, Network Coordinator, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, and LSAC Principal Scientific Advisor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne

Professor Michael Sawyer, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Department of Paediatrics, University of Adelaide

Professor Sven Silburn, Co-director, Curtin University of Technology, Centre for Developmental Health, Institute for Child Health Research, Perth

Dr Lyndall Strazdins, Research Fellow, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University

Associate Professor Judy Ungerer, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University

Professor Graham Vimpani (Representative of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth), Director, Child Adolescent and Family Health Service, University of Newcastle

Professor Melissa Wake, Director, Research and Public Health Unit, Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne

Professor Stephen Zubrick, Co-Director, Curtin University of Technology, Centre for Developmental Health and Head, Division of Population Science, Institute for Child Health Research, Perth.

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Endnotes

  1. Stability of care is also determined by the number of changes of care provider that the child experiences within each care arrangement; however, this aspect of care could not be addressed within the LSAC design.
  2. Two oft-cited British studies that have been omitted in the current review include the National Child Development Survey (NCDS), and the British Cohort Study (BCS70), both of which are conducted by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education in London. The NCDS is seeking to follow the lives of all those living in Great Britain who were born between 3 and 9 March 1958. The first data were collected in 1965, when the study children were aged 7 years. The BCS70, is a continuing, multidisciplinary longitudinal study which takes as its subjects all those living in Great Britain who were born between 5 and 11 April 1970. The first data were collected in 1970.

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List of tables

Appendix tables

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List of figures

Appendix figures

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Table and Figure description

Table 1 - NICHD-ECC study (2005): summary of findings

This table summarises the findings for children in the first three years of life on the scope and nature of the relationship between child care (quality, amount, type, stability) and six major aspects of children’s development (attachment, parent–child relationships, non-compliance in child care, problem behaviours, cognitive development and school readiness, language development), after controlling for child and family factors.

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Table 2 - and percentage of infants in non-parental child care by age group

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for infants in non-parental child care by age groups (1-26 weeks, 27-39 weeks, 40-52 weeks, >52 weeks).

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Table 3 - Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for entry into first non-parental care by age (weeks: 0 to 13, 14 to 26, 27 to 39, 40 or older).

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Table 4 - Hours per week spent in main care arrangement

This table shows the mean hours, 95% confidence interval and n for hours per week spent in main care arrangement. Categories of care are: long day care; family day care; informal–relative; and informal non–relative.

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Table 5 - Days per week spent in main care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for days per week spent in: long day care; family day care; informal–relative care; and informal non–relative care.

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Table 6 - Hours per week spent in care (main and other)

This table shows mean hours and 95% confidence interval for hours per week spent in main care and other care. The information is provided for formal care, that is long day care or family day care or both; informal care, that is relative only or non-relative only with relative; and mixed care, that is informal plus formal.

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Table 7 - Number of different care arrangements per week

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for how many types of regular care arrangements the child has per week. Categories are from 1 care arrangement per week to 5 or more care arrangements per week.

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Table 8 - Average number of care arrangements per year since birth

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for average number of care arrangements the child has used since birth. Information is provided for .01 to 1, 1.1 to 2, 2.1 to 3, 3.1 to 4, and more than 4.

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Table 9 - Reasons for infant attending non-parental care

This table shows n and percentage for reasons for infant attending non-parental care. 12 categories are listed.

Parents need:

  • Parents’ work or study commitments
  • To give parent a break or time alone
  • Parents’ sport, shopping, social or community activities
  • So parent can attend own/others’ health needs
  • Other for parent’s benefit

Childs benefit:

  • It is good for the child’s social development
  • Establish relationships with relatives
  • Other for child’s benefit
  • Mix with other children of the same age
  • Good for intellectual/language development
  • Respite care for the child
  • Other unspecified.

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Table 10 - Reasons for not using child care

Table shows n and percentage for reasons for not using child care. Categorised into:

  • Child does not need it
  • Parent is available—other care not needed
  • Problems with getting child care places
  • Not available locally
  • Transport problems
  • Cannot afford it—cost too high
  • Concerned with quality of care
  • Child has disability or special needs
  • Child would be unsettled in care
  • Does not suit our culture or ethnic beliefs
  • Do not want child care for by strangers
  • Child is too young
  • Other—accessibility or affordability
  • Other—quality/program issues
  • Other—not good for child

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Table 11 - Parent satisfaction with care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for parents’ level of satisfaction with main care arrangement. Categories include:

  • Very satisfied
  • Satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Dissatisfied
  • Very dissatisfied

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Table 12 - Parent satisfaction with care by type

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for parents’ satisfaction level  (very satisfied, satisfied neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, dissatisfied, very dissatisfied) with care by type. Categories are long day care; family day care; informal relative; and informal non-relative

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Table 13 - Mother’s age in years at time of infant birth by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s age in years at time of infant birth by type of care arrangement. Types of care category shown:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Mother’s age groups categories are:

  • Younger than 25
  • 25 to 29
  • 30 to 34
  • 35 and above

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Table 14 - Mother’s education by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s education by type of care arrangement. Types of care category shown:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Education categories are:

  • Year 10 or less
  • Year 11 or 12
  • Trade certificate or diploma
  • University

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Table 15 - Mother’s employment status by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s employment status by type of care arrangement: Types of care category shown:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Employment category:
Full-time
Part-time
Not working

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Table 16 - Number of children in household by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for number of children in household by type of care arrangement. Types of care category shown:
Parental—exclusive parental care:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Number of children category:

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4 or more

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Table 17 - Weekly household income by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for weekly household income by type of care arrangement: Types of care category shown:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Weekly household income:

  • Less than $600
  • $600 to $999
  • $1000 to $1499
  • $1500 to $1999
  • More than $2000

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Table 18 - Number of financial stresses by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for number of financial stresses by type of care arrangement. Types of care category shown:
Types of care categorised:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Number of financial stresses categorised as:

  • None
  • 1 or 2
  • 3 or more
  • Total

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Table 19 - SEIFA index (quintiles) by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for SEIFA index (quintiles) by type of care arrangement. Types of care categorised:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

SEIFA quintiles:

  • 950 and lower
  • 960–980
  • 990–1010
  • 1020–1060
  • 1070 and higher
  • Total

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Table 20 - Child’s age by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for child’s age by type of care arrangement. Type of care categorised:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Child’s age categorised:

  • 26 weeks and younger
  • 27 to 39 weeks
  • 40 to 52 weeks
  • Older than 52 weeks

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Table 21 - Child's sex by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for child’s sex by type of care arrangement. Type care categorised:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Child’s sex categories include:
Male
Female

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Table 22 - Child’s Indigenous status by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for Indigenous status by type of care arrangement. Type of care category shown:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Child’s Indigenous status category is:

  • Indigenous
  • Non-Indigenous

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Table 23 - Language spoken at home by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for language spoken at home by type of care arrangement. Type of care category shown:

  • Parental—exclusive parental care;
  • Formal—long day care only and family day care only or with long day care
  • Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and
  • Mixed—informal plus formal

Language spoken categories shown:

  • English only
  • Other language

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Table 24 - Family type by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for family type (lone parent, couple, total) by type of care arrangement (Parental—exclusive parental care; Formal—long day care only, and family day care only or with long day care; Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and Mixed—informal plus formal).

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Table 25 - Mother’s psychological distress by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s psychological distress (low, high, total) by type of care arrangement (Parental—exclusive parental care; Formal—long day care only, and family day care only or with long day care; Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and Mixed—informal plus formal).

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Table 26 - Mother’s separation anxiety by type of care arrangement

This table shows mother’s separation anxiety (mean, 95% confidence interval, n) by type of care arrangement (Parental—exclusive parental care; Formal—long day care only, and family day care only or with long day care; Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and Mixed—informal plus formal).

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Table 27 - Mother’s separation anxiety by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s separation anxiety (low, medium, high, total) by type of care arrangement (Parental—exclusive parental care; Formal—long day care only, and family day care only or with long day care; Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and Mixed—informal plus formal).

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Table 28 - Mother’s social support by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s social support (gets enough support, does not get enough support, total) by type of care arrangement (Parental—exclusive parental care; Formal—long day care only, and family day care only or with long day care; Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and Mixed—informal plus formal).

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Table 29 - Mother’s parenting self-efficacy by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s parenting self-efficacy (higher, lower, total) by type of care arrangement (Parental—exclusive parental care; Formal—long day care only, and family day care only or with long day care; Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and Mixed—informal plus formal).

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Table 30 - Mother’s parenting behaviour by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s parenting behaviour (higher, lower, total positive parenting behaviour) by type of care arrangement (Parental—exclusive parental care; Formal—long day care only, and family day care only or with long day care; Informal—relative only, informal non-relative only or with relative; and Mixed—informal plus formal).

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Table 31 - Mother’s education by hours in care

This table shows maternal education (Year 10 or less, Year 11 or 12, Trade certificate or diploma) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 32 - Mother’s employment status by hours in care

This table shows mother’s employment status (full-time, part-time, not working) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 33 - Number of children in household by hours in care

This table shows number of children in the household (1, 2, 3, 4 or more) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 34 - Weekly household income by hours in care

This table shows weekly household income (less than $600, $600–$999, $1,000–$1,499, $1,500–$1,999, More than $2,000) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 35 - Number of financial stresses by hours in care

This table shows the number of financial stresses (none, 1 or 2, 3 or more) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 36 - Child’s age by hours in care

This table shows child’s age in weeks (26 and younger, 27–39, 40–52, older than 52) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 37 - Child’s sex by hours in care

This table shows child’s sex (male, female) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 38 - Child’s Indigenous status by hours in care

This table shows child’s Indigenous status (Indigenous, non-Indigenous) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 39 - Language spoken at home by hours in care

This table shows language spoken at home (English only, other language) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 40 - Family type by hours in care

This table shows family type (lone parent, couple) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 41 - Mother’s psychological distress by hours in care

This table shows mother’s psychological distress (low, high) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 42 - Mother’s social support by hours in care

This table shows mother’s social support (gets enough support, does not get enough support) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 43 - Mother’s parenting self-efficacy by hours in care

This table shows mother’s parenting self-efficacy distress (higher, lower) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 44 - Mother’s parenting behaviour by hours of care

This table shows mother’s parenting behaviour (higher, lower) by hours per week of care (mean, 95% confidence interval, n).

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Table 45 - Age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (<1 year, 1 to <2 years, 2 to <3 years, 3 to <4 years, 4+ years, total).

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Table 46 - Main care/education arrangement

This table shows n and percentage for main care or education arrangement (exclusive parental care, family day care or informal care, pre-Year 1 (in school), preschool (in a school), preschool (outside a school), long day care centre, total).

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Table 47 - Combinations of care/education settings

This table shows n and percentage of combinations of care/education settings (no centre or school-based care/education, single setting, multiple settings).

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Table 48 - Combinations of care/education settings

This table shows n and percentage of combinations of care/education—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 49 - Hours per week spent in care/education arrangements

This table shows mean number of hours and 95% confidence interval for combinations of care/education—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 50 - Length of time in main care/education arrangement (months)

This table shows mean months and 95% confidence interval for care/education arrangement (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school and long day care).

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Table 51 - Parent satisfaction with child’s main care/education arrangement

This table shows mean parent satisfaction score and 95% confidence interval for care/education arrangement (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school and long day care).

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Table 52 - Number of current regular care/education arrangements a week

This table shows n and percentage of number of weekly care/ education arrangements per week (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and total).

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Table 53 - Reasons for using additional care/education

This table shows n and percentage for the reason for using additional care/education (parents need, child benefit, other unspecified and total).

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Table 54 - Mother’s age at time of child birth by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s age (younger than 25, 25 to 34, 35 and above and total) at the time of child birth by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 55 - Mother’s education by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s education (year 10 or less, year 11 or 12, trade certificate or diploma, university) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 56 - Mother’s employment status by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n  for mother’s employment (full-time, part-time, nor working) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 57 - Number of children in household by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for number of children in the household (1, 2, 3 and 4 or more) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 58 - Weekly household income by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for weekly household income ($) (less than 600, 600 to 999, 100-1499, 1500 to 1999, more than 2000) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 59 - Number of financial stresses by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for number of financial stresses (none, 1 or 2, 3 or more) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 60 - SEIFA index (quintiles) by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for SEIFA index quintiles (950 and lower, 960 to 980, 990 to 1010, 1020 to 1060, 1070 and higher) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 61- Child’s age by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for child’s age (years: 4.25-4.66, 4.67-4.99, 5.00-5.69) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 62 - Child’s sex by type of care arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for child’s sex by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 63 - Child’s Indigenous status by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for child’s Indigenous status by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 64 - Language spoken at home by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for language spoken at home (English only, other language) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 65 - Family type by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for family type (lone parent, couple) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 66 - Mother’s psychological distress by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s psychological distress (low, high) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 67 - Mother’s social support by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s social support (gets enough support, does not get enough support) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 68 - Mother’s parenting self‑efficacy by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s parenting self-efficacy (higher, lower) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 69 - Mother’s parenting behaviour by type of care/education arrangement

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for mother’s positive parenting behaviour (higher, lower) by type of care/education arrangement—pre-year one (no or yes with or without other care), preschool in a school (preschool only or with other care), preschool not in a school (preschool only or with other care), long day care (only LDC or with other care).

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Table 70 - Mother’s age at child’s birth by hours in care/education

This table shows mothers age at child’s birth (younger than 25, 25 to 34, 35 and above) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 71 - Mother’s education by hours in care/education

This table shows mothers education (year 10 or less, year 11 or 12, trade certificate or diploma, university) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 72 - Mother’s employment status by hours in care/education

This table shows mothers employment status (full-time, part-time, not working) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 73 - Number of children in household by hours in care/education

This table shows number of children in the household (1, 2, 3, 4 or more) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 74 - Weekly household income by hours in care/education

This table shows weekly household income (less than 600, 600 to 999, 1000-1499, 1500 to 1999, more than 2000)  by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 75 - Number of financial stresses by hours in care/education

This table shows number of financial stressors (none, 1 or 2, 3 or more) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 76 - Child’s sex by hours in care/education

This table shows child’s sex by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 77 - Child’s Indigenous status by hours in care/education

This table shows child’s Indigenous status by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 78 - Language spoken at home by hours in care/education

This table shows language spoken at home (English only, other language) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 79 - Family type by hours in care/education

This table shows family type (lone parent, couple) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 80 - Mother’s psychological distress by hours in care/education

This table shows mother’s psychological distress (low, high) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 81 - Mother’s social support by hours in care/education

This table shows mother’s social support (gets enough support, does not get enough support) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 82 - Mother’s parenting self-efficacy by hours in care/education

This table shows mother’s parenting self-efficacy (higher, lower) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 83 - Mother’s parenting behaviour by hours in care/education

This table shows mother’s positive parenting behaviour (higher, lower) by mean hours per week of care/education, 95% confidence interval and n.

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Table 84 - Carers who returned questionnaire by type of main care

This table shows percentage and n carers who returned questionnaires by type of main care arrangement—long day care, family day care, informal–relative, informal–non-relative, total).

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Table 85 - Age of carer/teacher by type of main care

This table shows mean age of carer, 95% confidence interval, median and range by type of main care arrangement—long day care, family day care, informal–relative, informal–non-relative, total).

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Table 86 - Education of carer/teacher by type of main care

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for education level of the carer/teacher (year 10 or less, year 11 or 12, trade certificate or diploma, university) by type of main care arrangement—long day care, family day care, informal–relative, informal–non-relative, total).

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Table 87 - Paid adult to children ratio (centre based care only)

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for number of paid adults to child ratio (1:1-3.9, 1:4, 1:>4, total)—for centre based care only.

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Table 88 - Qualified staff to children ratio (centre-based care only)

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for number of qualified staff to child ratio (1:1-3.9, 1:4, 1:4.1-10, 1:>10, total)—for centre based care only.

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Table 89 - Mean ratings for care giving activities by main care type

This table shows mean ratings, 95% confidence interval and significance p<0.05 for care giving activities (sitting and playing; singing, telling stories and reading books; managing problem behaviour; routine care; organising space, equipment and so on; teaching good health; active outdoor play; watching and supervising; pretend play) by type of main care arrangement—long day care, family day care, informal–relative, informal–non-relative, total).

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Table 90 - Mean values of availability of resources by main care type

This table shows mean and 95%confidence interval for availability of resources (language, fine motor, creative, pretend, open space for active play-LDC, active play-home care, soft area-LDC, space set up for one type of play-LDC) by type of main care arrangement—long day care, family day care, informal–relative, informal–non-relative).

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Table 91 - Teachers/carers who returned questionnaire by type

This table shows percentage and n for teachers/carers who returned questionnaire by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care, total).

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Table 92 - Teacher/carer age and experience by type

This table shows mean and 95% confidence interval for teacher/carer age and experience (years) by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care).

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Table 93 - Education of teacher/carer

This table shows frequency and percentage of education level of teacher/carer (masters or doctoral degree, graduate diploma or graduate certificate, bachelors degree, advanced diploma or associate degree, diploma or associate diploma, certificate, other, none of the above, total).

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Table 94 - Field of study (for highest post-secondary education)

This table shows n and percentage of fieldd of study – for highest post secondary education for teacher/ carer (none/not completed, early childhood education, child care, primary/secondary education, nursing, special education, other field, total).

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Table 95 - Staff qualifications by type of care/education setting

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for staff qualification level (diploma/certificate or less, university education, total) by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care, total).

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Table 96 - Field of study by type of care/education setting

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for field of study (early childhood education, child care, primary/secondary education, nursing, special education, other field, total) by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care, total).

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Table 97 - Paid staff-to-child ratios by care type

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for number of children per adult (less than 8, 8 to 15, 15 or higher, total) by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care, total).

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Table 98 - Qualified staff-to-child ratios by type of care/education setting

This table shows percentage, 95% confidence interval and n for number of children per qualified adult (less than 8, 8 to 15, 15 or higher, total) by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care, total).

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Table 99 - Description of approach to teaching by type of care/education setting

This table shows mean, 95% confidence interval and n for approaches to teaching (teacher-directed whole group activities; teacher-supported small group activities; teacher supported individual activities; child-initiated activities) by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care).

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Table 100 - Provisions for space and resources by type of care/education setting

This table shows mean, 95% confidence interval for space and mean and 95% confidence interval for resources by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care).

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Table 101 - Supportive work environment by type of care/education setting

This table shows mean and 95% confidence interval for teacher ratings of supportiveness by type of care/education (pre-year 1, preschool in a school, preschool not in a school, long day care).

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Table 102 - Effect of care type on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of care type (exclusive parental care, long day care only, family day care or with long day care, informal care only, informal non-relative only or with relative, informal plus formal) on the likelihood of the study infant having low physical health on the Physical Outcome Index. In addition to care type, other maternal, family and study child characteristics are also included in the table.

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Table 103 - Effect of hours per week in non-parental care on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of hours per week in non-parental care (increments of four hours) on the likelihood of the study infant having low physical health on the Physical Outcome Index.

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Table 104 - Effect of hours per week in centre-based care on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of hours per week in centre based care (0, 1 to 8, 9 to 20, 21 or more) on the likelihood of the study infant having low physical health on the Physical Outcome Index.

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Table 105 - Effect of hours per week in relative care on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of hours per week relative care (0, 1 to 8, 9 to 20, 21 or more) on the likelihood of the study infant having low physical health on the Physical Outcome Index.

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Table 106 - Effect of number of regular non-parental care arrangements on the likelihood of child having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of number of regular non-parental care arrangements (one, tow or more) on the likelihood of the study infant having low physical health on the Physical Outcome Index.

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Table 107 - Effect of age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement on the likelihood of the study infant having ‘low physical health’ on the Physical Outcomes Index

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (0 to 13 weeks, 14 to 26 weeks, 27 to 39 weeks, 40 weeks or older) on the likelihood of the study infant having low physical health on the Physical Outcome Index.

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Table 108 - Effect of care measures on the likelihood of the study infant having an ongoing problem with diarrhoea or infection

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of care measures (exclusive parental care, long day care only, family day care or with long day care, informal care only, informal non-relative only or with relative, informal plus formal) on the likelihood of the study infant having ongoing problems with diarrhoea or infection. In addition to care type, other variables included in the table are: hours per week in care, number of regular care arrangements, age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement, hours per week in centre-based care and hours per week in relative care.

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Table 109 - Effect of care type (adjusted odds ratios) on the likelihood of child falling into ‘concern’ on the Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scale

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of care type (exclusive parental care, long day care only, family day care or with long day care, informal care only, informal non-relative only or with relative, informal plus formal) on the likelihood of the study child falling into ‘concern’ on Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scale. In addition to care type, other maternal, family and study child characteristics are also included in the table.

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Table 110 - Effect of age of entry into first non-parental care on the likelihood of the parent reporting ‘concern’ about infant emergent communication skill

This table shows adjusted odds ratio and 95% confidence interval to look at the effect of age of entry into first non-parental care arrangement (0 to 13 weeks, 14 to 26 weeks, 27 to 39 weeks, 40 weeks or older) on the likelihood of the study child falling into ‘concern’ on infant emergent communication skill.

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Table 111 - Effect of type, amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children receiving non-parental child care/education

This table shows estimate (ρ) to look at the effect of care/early education type (no centre or school based care/education, pre-year one only or with other care/education, preschool in a school only, preschool not in a school with other care/education, long day care only, long day care with other care/education), amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care, maternal, family and study child characteristics on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children receiving non-parental child care/education.

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Table 112 - Effect of type of current care/early education on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—all children

This table shows estimate (ρ) to look at the effect of type of current care/early education (no centre or school based care/education, pre-year one only or with other care/education, preschool in a school only, preschool not in a school with other care/education, long day care only, long day care with other care/education) on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—all children.

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Table 113 - Effect of type, amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care on teacher/carer-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in centre or school-based child care/education

This table shows estimate (ρ) to look at the effect of care/early education type (no centre or school based care/education, pre-year one only or with other care/education, preschool in a school only, preschool not in a school with other care/education, long day care only, long day care with other care/education), amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care on teacher/carer-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in centre or school-based child care/education. Maternal, family and study child characteristics are also included in this table.

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Table 114 - Effect of type, amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—children receiving non-parental care/education

This table shows estimate (ρ) to look at the effect of care/early education type (no centre or school based care/education, pre-year one only or with other care/education, preschool in a school only, preschool not in a school with other care/education, long day care only, long day care with other care/education), amount and stability of current care/early education and age of entry to first care on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—children receiving non-parental care/education. Maternal, family and study child characteristics are also included in this table.

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Table 115 - Effect of type of current care/early education on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—all children

This table shows estimate (ρ) to look at the effect of type of current care/early education (no centre or school based care/education, pre-year one only or with other care/education, preschool in a school only, preschool not in a school with other care/education, long day care only, long day care with other care/education) on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—all children.

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Table 116 - Effect of quality of current care/early education on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in pre-Year 1 classes only

This table shows estimate (ρ) to look at the effect of quality of current care/early education (education level of teacher/carer; field of study; number of years experience in early childhood; ratio of qualified staff to children;  level of teacher-directed large group activities; level of teacher-supported small group activities; level of teacher-supported individual activities; level of child-initiated activities) on mother-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in pre-Year 1 classes only.

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Table 117 - Effect of quality of current care/early education on teacher/carer-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in pre-Year 1 classes only

This table shows estimate (ρ) to look at the effect of quality of current care/early education (education level of teacher/carer; field of study; number of years experience in early childhood; ratio of qualified staff to children;  level of teacher-directed large group activities; level of teacher-supported small group activities; level of teacher-supported individual activities; level of child-initiated activities) on teacher/carer-rated problem behaviour and pro-social behaviour—children in pre-Year 1 classes only.

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Table 118 - Effect of quality of current care/early education on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—children in pre-Year 1 classes only

This table shows estimate (ρ) to look at the effect of quality of current care/early education (education level of teacher/carer; field of study; number of years experience in early childhood; ratio of qualified staff to children;  level of teacher-directed large group activities; level of teacher-supported small group activities; level of teacher-supported individual activities; level of child-initiated activities) on receptive language (PPVT) and early literacy and numeracy (Who Am I?) outcomes—children in pre-Year 1 classes only.

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Table A1 - Summary table of research studies informing the literature review

This table summarises research studies informing the literature review. The studies name, purpose, location, design features, sample, child care measures, child outcome measures, major findings and key references are included in the table.

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Table B1 - Summary Statistics for Administration of Adapted PPVT-III and Who Am I? tests as part of LSAC Wave 1

This table shows summary statistics (number of cases, mean scaled scores, mean number of items correct/mean raw score, minimum number of items correct, maximum number of items correct, reliability) for Administration of Adapted PPVT-III and Who Am I? tests as part of LSAC Wave 1

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Table B2 - Items selected for Adaptive PPVT-III for use with 6 year-olds in LSAC

This table shows items selected for the Australian adaptation of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) showing Set (core 1, core 2, basal and ceiling), PPVT-III Form A item number, Item, Item threshold, and Infit mean square

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Figure 1 - Socio-ecological contexts shaping children’s development

This figure shows that infant and child development occurs within the context of the family, non-parental child care and early education (including school), and community environments. These contexts, in turn, sit within broader socioeconomic, structural, cultural and political contexts.

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Figure 2 - Main child care arrangement

This figure shows the breakdown of infants’ main child care arrangements across a range of settings.

Total in care n=1,782

Formal n=676 (37.9%)

  • Long day care centre n=505 (28.3%)
  • Family day care n=171 (9.6%)

Informal n=1,106 (62.1%)

  • Relative n=876 (49.1%)
  • Grandparent n=790 (44.3%)
  • Other relative n=85 (4.8%)
  • Non-relative n=231 (12.9%)
  • Other person n=90 (5.1%)
  • Nanny n=71 (4.0%)
  • Occasional/leisure n=69 (3.9%)

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Figure 3 - Combinations of care (main and other care)

This figure shows the child care arrangements simplified into four categories: long day care, family day care, informal relative and informal non-relative. Total sample size is 1,782.

Total in care n=1,782

Formal only n=543 (30.5%)

  • Long day care centre only n=398 (22.3%)
  • Family day care alone, or with day care centre n=145 (8.1%)

Informal only n=1,060 (59.5%)

  • Relative only n=796 (44.7%)
  • Non-relative only or with relative n=264 (14.8%)

Mixed formal and informal n=179 (10.0%)

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Figure 4 - Number of care/education arrangements per year (since birth)

This figure shows the number of care/education arrangements attended per year since birth. The horizontal axis shows the number of care settings per year (scale of 0–5) and the vertical axis shows the frequency (scale 0–2,000).S

The bars are clustered between 0 and approximately 1.6 care settings per year.

Mean=0.4235
Standard deviation=0.24747
N=4,982

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Figure 5 - Distribution of supportiveness in centre-based care environment

This figure shows the distribution of supportiveness in centre-based care environments. The horizontal axis has a scale from 5–30, with most of the bars clustered between 20 and 30. The vertical axis shows frequency (scale 0–80).

Mean=26.3927
Standard deviation=3.3507
N=224

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Figure 6 - Distribution of supportiveness in family day care environment

This figure shows the distribution of supportiveness in family day care environments. The horizontal axis has a scale from 0–20, with most of the bars clustered between 12 and 20. The vertical axis shows frequency (scale 0–20).
Mean=17.1281
Standard deviation=2.36109
N=80

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Figure B1 - Item fit map for all items on the Australian adaptation of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) calibrated with all cases anchored to core items

This figure shows the item fit map for all items on the Australian adaptation of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test calibrated with all cases anchored to core items. The infit mean square ranges from 0.86 to 1.17 for items 11–30 (the core set) and items 31–40 (the ceiling set). The basal set (items 1–10) has extremely low infit mean squares (0.49 or less).

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Figure B2 - Item fit map for all items on the Who Am I? test

This figure shows the item fit map for all items (11) on the Who Am I? test calibrated with all cases anchored to core items (infit means square ranges from 0.71 to 1.80). Most items ranged from 0.77 to 1.14, with the most difficult item for children being number 10 in which children were asked to write a sentence— mean fit of 1.67.

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Figure B3 - Item map for all cases on the Who Am I? test

This figure shows the item fit map for all cases on the Who Am I? test. Analysis of a partial credit model provides information on the thresholds required to move from any score to a higher score on each item. For all items, higher scores had higher logit values, indicating that higher scores were achieved by children who had higher ability estimates. The item map also indicates that the distribution of children (on the left) was only slightly above the distribution of the items (on the right), indicating that there was a good match between the difficulty of the items and the children’s ability levels.

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Figure B4 - Scatterplot showing joint distribution of scores on simulated adaptive PPVT-III and scores on full PPVT-III for 6 year olds

This figure shows the correlation between the simulated adaptive PPVT-III and scores on full PPVT-III for 6 year olds. The lowest correlation was 0.887; most correlations were in the 0.93 to 0.97 range, suggesting that the adapted version of the PPVT provides similar results to the full PPVT.

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