Children cared for by grandparent are usually safer than in other settings, 1990s data indicate

November 04, 2008|By Stephanie Desmon and Kelly Brewington | Stephanie Desmon and Kelly Brewington and, and

With many grandparents baby-sitting their grandchildren during the day, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wondered whether those children might be at a higher risk of injury in the care of older people whose parenting lessons were learned in an era where car seats weren't the law and child-proofing wasn't a multimillion-dollar industry.

The findings, published yesterday in the journal Pediatrics, surprised its authors. In some cases, working parents who chose to have grandparents care for their children cut the risk of childhood injury in half. Even when compared with organized day care or care by the mother or other relatives, having a grandmother watch the child was associated with decreased injury for the child.

But Dr. David Bishai, a professor in the school's Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, cautioned that the study doesn't mean grandparents are automatically the best caregivers. It's more about parents making the best choices possible for their kids.

"There are some grandparents you would not leave alone with grandchildren," he said. But "you're not going to hurt them if you do the right selection."

Among other findings: The odds of injury were greater among children of parents who never married compared with those whose parents stayed married. The odds of injury were greater for children living in homes without their father.

Bishai and colleagues analyzed data collected about more than 5,500 newborns in 15 U.S. cities in 1996-1997, with a follow-up 30 to 33 months later. Bishai said he does not know whether the information would be different had it been collected more recently.

Delores Miller, 63, said she gladly volunteered to provide child care for her granddaughter Imani when Miller's daughter returned to work at a Baltimore credit union. She bought Imani a toy mop, broom and vacuum so when it was time for housekeeping they did it side by side. And during trips to the grocery store, she made sure Imani always stayed close.

"Children can get more one-on-one attention, rather than in a group of people," said Miller, who cared for Imani for six years until she started first grade this fall. "Imani was more familiar with me than anyone else. I know more about her behavior and well-being than any stranger would."

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