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Pre-school Care and Early Child Development: Population-level Evidence from the Early Development Instrument in Ontario

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Background: With two-parent employment on the rise in recent decades, it is a common need for parents to find an alternative care arrangement for their children. Evidence from a number of countries, including Canada, shows that the demand for high quality child care is growing and is not met with adequate supply. In light of evidence of importance of experiencing a stimulating environment in the early years, it is crucial to establish what impact different forms of preschool care arrangements have on child development and how they associate with inequalities between demographic and economic groups. The existing evidence relies mostly on sample-based studies.

Purpose: To examine developmental outcomes in kindergarten in relation to type of preschool care attendance and children’s sociodemographic characteristics.

Data: We used data from the Early Development Instrument (EDI, Janus & Offord, 2007), a kindergarten teacher-completed questionnaire gathering information about children’s abilities to meet age-appropriate expectations across five developmental domains: Physical Health and Well-Being, Social Competence, Emotional Maturity, Language and Cognitive Development, and Communication Skills and General Knowledge. Children are considered vulnerable if they fall below a normative threshold on any of the domains. Teachers are also asked to report on the preschool care arrangements of children, if known. The EDI were collected for 125,024 children in the 2014/2015 school year in Ontario. Area-level socioeconomic information from the Canadian Census was also linked to children by postal code to provide contextual information (using Dissemination Areas as geographic units).

Methods: We employed logistic regression to analyse children’s probability of vulnerability on the EDI, using preschool care arrangements (formal-licensed or informal: non-licensed or care by a relative), sex, age, and contextual socioeconomic characteristics as independent variables. Successive regressions tested: 1) the significance of attending preschool care, 2) the significance of the type of care controlling for variation in other socioeconomic/demographic variables, and 3) the interaction between preschool care and socioeconomic/demographic variables.

Results: Children who attended any preschool care were significantly less likely to be vulnerable compared to those who did not. Children from higher socioeconomic areas were more likely to attend non-parental care (Table 1). The relationship between vulnerability and attending preschool care held after controlling for sex, age, and area-level socioeconomic variables.

Including interactions in the model resulted in a weaker relationship between formal care and lower vulnerability for boys compared with girls (Figure 1). Boys attending informal care arrangements had a lower probability of vulnerability than those attending formal care. In comparison to children who did not attend any non-parental care, probability of vulnerability among girls in formal care was lower by 5 percentage points, but only by 2 among boys.

Conclusions/Policy Implications: These findings suggest children who attend any preschool care have lower levels of vulnerability than those who do not, with girls benefitting more from formal care and boys from informal care. While our findings provide support for increased availability of preschool care arrangements, they also highlight the need to evaluate the effectiveness of any program across demographic and socioeconomic groups.

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