Researchers question interpretation of study

Child care report opens rift in research team

April 28, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

A week after a high-profile study cast a negative light on child care, researchers - including the study's lead statistician - are sharply questioning whether their controversial work has been misrepresented.

As publicly reported last week, the study showed that the more time preschoolers spend in child care, the more likely their teachers were to report behavior problems such as aggression and defiance in kindergarten.

But several academics involved in the study feel that its conclusion was overstated and that other important findings never reached the public. In the aftermath, a rift has been exposed among the research team, and questions from other experts have caused the researchers to do additional analysis before publishing their findings.

Several of those involved in the project accuse Jay Belsky, a University of London professor and a lead researcher on the study, of downplaying other important information when he presented the findings at a news conference last week. They accuse him of having an anti-child-care agenda.

For his part, Belsky charges that his colleagues are "running from this data like a nuclear bomb went off" because they are committed to putting an approving stamp on child care.

Within academia, the dispute is part of a years-long battle between Belsky and his colleagues over whether child care harms children. Among debated findings:

While 17 percent of kindergartners who had been in child-care showed more assertive and aggressive behaviors, that proportion is the norm for the general population of children and adolescents.

Family interactions counted more toward children's behavior than hours spent in child care.

Researchers said the statistics are very modest: Few children exhibited above-average behavior problems, and the problems were not drastic.

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