Toddlers in childcare generally develop as well as those cared for in the home

The 'Growing Up in Ireland' study examined the emotional development of around 9,000 children in Ireland across a range of backgrounds.

New research suggests toddlers cared for at créche or in childcare centres generally develop as well emotionally and socially as those cared for by parents in the home.

A new Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study published today investigates the effects of childcare on children’s social and emotional development by the age of five.

The 'Growing Up in Ireland' study examined the development of around 9,000 children in Ireland across a range of backgrounds.

Parents were interviewed when children were nine months, 36 months and five years old.

The teachers of the five-year-olds were also interviewed.

Around half the children in the study were in “non-parental care” before the age of three.

The study found that the type care a child received at age three had only a small effect on a child’s emotional development with the difference calculated at less than 1%.

Children cared for by relatives (usually grandparents) or childminders were found to have “somewhat fewer” emotional difficulties and better social skills than those looked after by their parents.

Toddlers in childcare centres and crèches were also rated as having fewer socio-emotional difficulties and in particular, fewer emotional and peer problems than those in full-time parental care.

ESRI Associate Research Professor, Helen Russell said other factors like financial difficulty, living in areas of disadvantage - and being a boy - can have a greater impact on a child's development than where they are cared for as a toddler.

She said children who experienced non-parental care for more than 30 hours a week experienced a “small negative effect.”

Dr Russell said the study provides, "critical insights into what factors promote children’s socio-emotional development, which is essential not only for their current wellbeing but also for their ability to settle into school and for their longer term educational attainment."

“We find some evidence that access to centre-based care provides more beneficial effects for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, but the effects are small and not enough to level the playing field," she said.

"The quality of care is likely to be crucial.”