though we know virtually nothing about the factors that impinge on parents' decisions about when to first rely on child care, it appears that these decisions are affected by a complex mix of factors including access to parental leave, the capacity to forgo wages for a period of time, new policies requiring work from mothers formerly dependent on public assistance, and the availability of child care arrangements (including sharing care between two parents) with which the parents are comfortable. The emerging evidence on these issues belies the hesitancy and ambivalence that accompanies new parent's decisions about infant child care and renders questions about the consequences of child care for young children especially compelling. In this context, issues concerning equity of access to family leave benefits become important, as do questions about the extent to which families in differing circumstances (e.g., those without a partner available to share child care responsibilities) feel that they are able to exert their preferences regarding when and how they arrange for the care of their infants.
Two concerns have guided research on the developmental effects of child care. The first focuses on the mother-infant relationship and asks, “Will this relationship be harmed or diminished in significance as a result of the daily separations that are entailed when a baby is placed in child care?” This concern is not unfounded. Child care, insofar as it reduces the amount of time available for the mother to learn the baby's signals and rhythms, might also adversely affect her ability to respond sensitively to the baby and establish a secure attachment relationship (see Brazelton, 1986). The other concern focuses directly on the children: “Will the young child's cognitive, language, and social-emotional development be compromised as a result of spending time in child care?” Today, this concern is riveted on infants and toddlers, for whom early and extensive enrollment in nonfamilial child care is a relatively recent phenomenon. The National Research Council summarized the evidence on these issues a decade ago (National Research Council, 1990). The intervening decade of research has both confirmed and expanded on the earlier panel's conclusion that the effects of child care derive not from its use or nonuse but from the quality of the experiences it provides to young children. (For additional, recent reviews of research on child care see Lamb, 1998; Love et al., 1996; Scarr and Eisenberg, 1993, and Smith, 1998.)
Evidence from child care research of the 1990s is reassuring to those who have been concerned that child care might disrupt the mother-infant