Program practices, caregiver stability, and child–caregiver relationships

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<ul><li><p>Applied Developmental Psychology 24 (2003) 497516Program practices, caregiver stability, and</p><p>childcaregiver relationships</p><p>Sharon Ritchie*, Carollee Howes</p><p>Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California,</p><p>Los Angeles, CA 90095-1521, USA</p><p>Abstract</p><p>In this article, we examine program practices, caregiver behaviors, and classroom climates</p><p>associated with positive childcaregiver relationships. We used the presence or absence of these</p><p>practices and our independent observations of childcaregiver interactions and classroom climates to</p><p>predict childrens attachment security. Two hundred and fifty-six children (48% girls) from 22</p><p>programs serving underrepresented children and families in Los Angeles and rural North Carolina</p><p>participated in this research. Three of the programs served only children from difficult life</p><p>circumstances. Over half of the children experienced basic stability and uniform/consistent caregiving,</p><p>while primary caregiver assignment and looping were rare. Programs specifically serving only children</p><p>from difficult life circumstances were more likely to use relationship practices; 74% of them</p><p>experienced all four practices, in programs for the other children, none of them experienced all four</p><p>practices. The children from difficult life circumstances were in less acrimonious classrooms, and were</p><p>more likely to be with teachers who interacted with them intensely and sensitively. Intense and</p><p>sensitive interactions, and spending more time with the primary caregiver were most important in</p><p>predicting childcaregiver attachment security. Secondary and negative predictors were membership</p><p>in a caregiver direction cluster and being assigned to a caregiver.</p><p>D 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.</p><p>Keywords: Caregiver stability; Caregiver behaviors; Childcaregiver relationships; Program practices0193-3973/$ see front matter D 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.</p><p>doi:10.1016/S0193-3973(03)00028-5</p><p>* Corresponding author.</p><p>E-mail addresses: ritchie@gseis.ucla.edu (S. Ritchie), howes@gseis.ucla.edu (C. Howes).</p></li><li><p>1. Introduction</p><p>Children in early childhood programs spend their days with a variety of caregivers. They</p><p>often have different caregivers in the morning as they do in the afternoon, and move through</p><p>multiple groupings and activities that are facilitated by different adults. Caregivers however</p><p>are not interchangeable. Each childcaregiver relationship is with a particular caregiver. A</p><p>child in a classroom may very well have different patterns of relationships with the morning</p><p>caregiver, the afternoon caregiver, and the assistant caregivers. Every time the child</p><p>experiences a new caregiver, both must then engage in the process of constructing a new</p><p>relationship. The nature of the relationships that children construct with their caregivers</p><p>influences childrens competence and learning while they are in their current program, and as</p><p>they move along in school (Howes, 2000; Howes, Matheson, &amp; Hamilton, 1994; Howes,</p><p>Phillipsen, &amp; Peisner-Feinberg, 2000). In this article, we examine program practices that</p><p>inhibit or promote the development of secure attachment relationships between caregivers and</p><p>childrencaregiver stability, caregiver behaviors, and classroom climates associated with</p><p>positive childcaregiver relationships.</p><p>1.1. Secure attachment with caregivers</p><p>In general, childcaregiver attachment security is independent of childmother attachment</p><p>security (Goossen &amp; van IJzendoorn, 1990; Mitchell-Copeland, Denham, &amp; DeMulder, 1997;</p><p>Pianta, Nimetz, &amp; Bennett, 1997). Each new caregiver has the opportunity to construct a</p><p>different relationship than the child has previously experienced. However, when children</p><p>come from difficult life circumstances they may bring to new relationships prior histories of</p><p>acrimonious, conflictual, neglectful, or unstable interaction and caregiving. These children</p><p>who have experienced difficult life circumstance often tend to act towards new caregivers as</p><p>if they too will be untrustworthy partners (Howes &amp; Ritchie, 2002).</p><p>Caregivers may have to be particularly sensitive and talented to construct a secure</p><p>attachment relationship with a child with prior difficult life circumstances. Children who</p><p>have been adopted from Romanian orphanages (Chisholm, 1998), and from the United States</p><p>foster care system (Marcus, 1991; Ritchie, 1995) are able to construct secure attachment</p><p>relationships with their new caregivers. The likelihood of achieving a secure relationship is</p><p>increased when the caregivers are rated as highly sensitive, consistently positive, and</p><p>committed to the loving caregiver role. Therefore, in our current work we were particularly</p><p>interested in the relationships of the children enrolled in programs only for children with</p><p>difficult life experiences.</p><p>Ideas drawn from attachment theory and empirical research on childcaregiver relation-</p><p>ships suggest that the particular nature of childrens social interactions with their primary</p><p>caregivers and the emotional climate of these interactions (Boyce et al., 1998; Cassidy &amp;</p><p>Shaver, 1999; Howes, 1999) influence the nature of relationships. Thus, all children who</p><p>S. Ritchie, C. Howes / Applied Developmental Psychology 24 (2003) 497516498have warm, responsive, and individualized interactions with caregivers in the context of a</p><p>harmonious classroom emotional climate are more likely to form secure attachment relation-</p><p>ships with their caregivers (Goossen &amp; van IJzendoorn, 1990; Howes &amp; Hamilton, 1992;</p></li><li><p>Howes &amp; Smith, 1995; Kontos, Howes, Shin, &amp; Galinsky, 1995). These findings are</p><p>consistent with a large and well established body of research on motherchild attachment</p><p>relationships, which finds that warm, responsive, and sensitive mothers construct secure</p><p>motherchild attachments with their children (Bretherton, 1985). Accordingly, we examined</p><p>childrens experiences of caregiving with particular attention to the emotional quality of</p><p>childcaregiver interactions.</p><p>1.2. Caregiver stability</p><p>A body of literature suggests that children who experience instability in caregivers are less</p><p>likely to form positive relationships with caregivers. The prototype context for this concern is</p><p>foster care and adoption rather than childcare. Children who experience extremes of</p><p>instability, particularly as infants, tend to have persistent problems with positive relationship</p><p>formation (Marcovitch et al., 1997; Rutter, 1999). Because childcare environments frequently</p><p>involve multiple caregivers and high turnover rates there has been some documentation of the</p><p>negative impacts of instability of caregivers in childcare. The National Child Care Staffing</p><p>Study (Whitebook et al., 1990), the Child Care Employee Project (Whitebook, Phillips, &amp;</p><p>Howes, 1993) and the NAEYC Accreditation as a Strategy for Improving Child Care Quality</p><p>(Whitebook et al., 1997) have all established as best practice the need to reduce high turnover</p><p>rates amongst teaching staff. Children in the National Child Care Staffing Study who were</p><p>enrolled in centers with higher rates of caregiver turnover spent less time engaged in social</p><p>activities with peers, more time in aimless wandering, and scored lower on assessments of</p><p>language development (Whitebook, Howes, Phillips, &amp; Pemberton, 1989). Furthermore,</p><p>children who experienced more caregivers between the ages of one and four were more</p><p>aggressive with peers than children who had fewer caregiver changes (Howes &amp; Hamilton,</p><p>1993). Infants who spent more time with the same caregiver were rated (by the caregiver) as</p><p>having a more secure attachment relationship with their caregiver (Raikes, 1993). The</p><p>National Child Care Staffing Study, more than any previous research effort, made it apparent</p><p>that as long as the early childhood field failed to resolve the staff compensation crisis that</p><p>contributes to high turnover, that childcares capacity to nurture children and assist families</p><p>would continue to be shortchanged (Whitebook et al., 1993). Childcare quality also has been</p><p>found to affect turnover. Centers that retained a greater percent of highly skilled teachers are</p><p>significantly more likely to receive good or better ratings on overall classroom quality</p><p>(Whitebook et al., 1997).</p><p>1.3. Relationship-based practices</p><p>The response of the early childhood field to the issues of high turnover rates and the</p><p>importance of positive childcaregiver relationships has been to develop a number of</p><p>practices designed to mitigate the potentially negative influences of caregiver instability</p><p>S. Ritchie, C. Howes / Applied Developmental Psychology 24 (2003) 497516 499and to enhance positive childcaregiver relationships. Although widely accepted as best</p><p>practice, and drawn from years of experience, there have been few empirical tests of the</p><p>efficacies of these practices. As part of our ethnographic work with programs designated by</p></li><li><p>communities as successful in their work with children and families, we identified a number of</p><p>practices the program participants believed to be important in the development of positive</p><p>relationships. In this paper, we used the presence or absence of these practices as well as our</p><p>independent observations of childcaregiver interactions and classroom climates to predict</p><p>childrens attachment security.</p><p>To reduce caregiver instability, programs attempted a number of strategies to keep</p><p>instability to a minimum. At the most basic level caregivers were assigned to a group of</p><p>children, usually a classroom, for 1 year. Caregivers were not rotated between groups and</p><p>caregivers did not move to different classrooms or sites during the week. Programs who</p><p>articulated a particular concern with relationship formation added at least one of the three</p><p>following practices to their repertoire: primary caregiver assignment; uniform/consistent</p><p>caregiving, and/or looping. When programs practiced primary caregiver assignment, the</p><p>director or head caregiver assigned each child within a group to a particular caregiver. The</p><p>assigned caregiver was to provide all emotionally salient caregiving for that childgreeting</p><p>the child in the morning, helping the child with meals and toileting or diapering, putting the</p><p>child to nap, and monitoring the childs play throughout the day. Programs that practiced</p><p>uniform/consistent caregiving believed that all caregivers in the program should share and</p><p>practice a uniform/consistent philosophy. They made purposeful efforts in staff meetings and</p><p>in-service training to insure that caregivers maintained shared beliefs around ideas of</p><p>positively relating with children, language development, separation from parents, and child</p><p>involvement in the program activities. In programs that practiced looping, a group of children</p><p>were assigned to a head caregiver for more than 1 year.</p><p>1.4. Positive classroom climate</p><p>The emotional climate of the classroom is a relatively recent addition to the construct of</p><p>childcare quality. It refers to the tone of the classroom and can range from positive and</p><p>prosocial to acrimonious and harsh. Early classroom climates in one study, predicted social</p><p>competence with peers in second grade (Howes, 2000). Acrimonious interactions disrupt the</p><p>learning of the child involved and at times, the entire classroom. Acrimonious interactions</p><p>can involve conflicts between teachers and children or between children and children. They</p><p>are often marked by verbal or physical aggression, disregard for classroom rules of conduct,</p><p>or disputes over materials. We prefer to call them acrimonious rather than conflictual</p><p>interactions because in these episodes children introduce disruptive behaviors and teachers</p><p>can respond by escalating or de-escalating behaviors. For classroom interaction to be</p><p>harmonious, there must be agreement on the rules of conduct, specifically the explicit and</p><p>implicit rules for which behaviors are permitted and forbidden in classrooms.</p><p>Important to examining the tone of a classroom is an awareness of the nature of the</p><p>difficult relationships within it. Attachment theorists have described two attachment</p><p>organizations associated with insecure relationships: avoidant and ambivalent/resistant</p><p>(Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, &amp; Wall, 1978). Children with avoidant attachment organiza-</p><p>S. Ritchie, C. Howes / Applied Developmental Psychology 24 (2003) 497516500tions turn away rather than seek comfort from adults because they have experienced</p><p>rejection and insensitivity from adults (Ainsworth et al., 1978). Since they expect the adult</p></li><li><p>to reject them, they tend to make preemptive strikes, acting in a hostile fashion before</p><p>the adult has an opportunity to be rejecting. Alternatively, they may avoid the adult to</p><p>avoid being rejected. Children with avoidant maternal attachment histories tend to be rated</p><p>by teachers as high in aggression and passive withdrawal (Renken, Egeland, Marvinney,</p><p>Mangelsdorf, &amp; Sroufe, 1989).</p><p>Children with an ambivalent/resistant attachment organization also do not trust their</p><p>attachment figure to provide comfort and emotional security. However, in contrast to children</p><p>with avoidant attachments, their experience of the attachment figure has been inconsistent,</p><p>and thus confusing (Cassidy &amp; Berlin, 1994). Sometimes, the adult will be there for them and</p><p>other times the adult will withdraw from the child. Children with ambivalent/resistant</p><p>attachment organization tend to be dependent and hard to comfort. These children may</p><p>appear to seek comfort, and then reject the adults attempts to provide it. Thus, these children</p><p>are both clingy and difficult. Children with a history of ambivalent/resistant maternal</p><p>attachment are characterized as fearful and inhibited in exploration with both peers and</p><p>materials (Cassidy &amp; Berlin, 1994). Children with ambivalent/resistant attachment organ-</p><p>izations can also be disruptive within classrooms. Unlike the child with an avoidant</p><p>attachment organization, the child with an ambivalent/resistant attachment organization uses</p><p>disruptive behavior to draw the teacher into interpersonal conflict.</p><p>In a positive classroom climate, the goal of teachers is to maximize harmonious</p><p>interactions by keeping acrimonious interactions from becoming conflicts that disrupt</p><p>learning. It would be logical to assume that children from difficult life circumstances</p><p>would be in more acrimonious classrooms, as children who act out more could prompt</p><p>more teacher frustration, more time-outs and reprimands. Consideration, however, of the</p><p>teachers who choose to work in classrooms with these children in programs that have a</p><p>philosophical base which supports the development of positive relationships can perhaps</p><p>reduce the likelihood of acrimony for children who have likely already experienced far too</p><p>much of it.</p><p>1.5. Summary</p><p>As early childhood classrooms become increasingly burdened with federal and state</p><p>mandates for child outcomes in literacy and math, it is essential to bear in mind the practices</p><p>and program philosophies that may promote childrens success in school which are not</p><p>directly linked to academic progress. This study exa...</p></li></ul>

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