Trust in mom isn't lost in day care, latest study finds Mother's sensitivity is believed to be the key


The most far-reaching and comprehensive study to date has found that using child care does not affect infants' trust in their mothers.

The results, announced yesterday at a conference in Providence, R.I., run counter to several previous studies that seemed to show that infants in child care were slightly more likely to have an insecure relationship with their mothers than those whose mothers stayed at home with them.

The earlier research had alarmed some experts and parents because other studies indicate that troubled bonds between infants and mothers could signal emotional and behavioral problems later.

The new study was designed to address one of the most emotionally charged issues in society today: Does a mother put her child at risk by working outside the home?

It reported that the sense of trust felt by 15-month-old children in their mothers was not affected by whether the children were in day care, by how many hours they spent there, by the age they entered day care, by the quality or type of care or by how many times care arrangements were changed.

Instead, what affected that trust was a mother's sensitivity and responsiveness to her child.

The scientists measured attachment by watching children's reactions when their mothers returned after brief separations. Children who sought comfort from their mothers were judged to be secure. Researchers evaluated mothers by videotaping them with their children and grading the mothers' sensitivity according to accepted criteria.

"Part of what elicited this study was real worries that child care in and of itself was unhealthy," said Dr. Deborah Lowe Vandell, one of the 25 researchers on the project, which was sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health.

"I think that is the wrong analysis. One message from the study is that if the quality of the interaction with the mother is sensitive, then the child is likely to develop a secure relationship with her. I'm sure that will be reassuring to many mothers and families."

Researchers also said that the study found some apparent risks for certain vulnerable children. When a mother does not handle her child sensitively, the likelihood of a troubled mother-child bond can be increased by child care that is of poor quality, changes several times or extends more than 10 hours a week.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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