The research found babies and toddlers in long day care are sick more often than those cared for at home but are less likely to be ill by the time they reach school age.
The research team led by Associate Professor Linda Harrison, from CSU’s School of Teacher Education
in Bathurst, analysed data from the federal government’s longitudinal study of 10 000 Australian children.
The study found children under three and a half who attend group childcare settings are more likely to have problems with ear infections than those cared for at home.
“The likely reason is exposure to infection by close contact with other children through play and shared toys, exposure at a time when the immune system is immature and inconsistent application of infection control procedures,” Professor Harrison said.
Children with older siblings, those born premature, and children growing up in a family suffering hardship also reported more problems with ear infections.
Professor Harrison said there is some consolation for parents who might worry about the long-term health risks of putting young children in group care.
“Although children may become ill when first starting care, there is no evidence that this leads to poorer health later on.
“Rather than being a possible risk, the results suggested it may provide a protective effect. Ongoing problems for ear infections were lower in children who had attended centre care as babies, compared to those in exclusive parental care,” she said.
Professor Harrison said reducing the spread of infectious diseases is the responsibility of both parents and childcare centres.
“Regular hand washing and regular cleaning of toys must be stringently applied. This should be something parents ask about when looking to enrol their child,” she said. “Parents also have to ensure children are not presented at childcare when illness is suspected.”
The research will be presented at the federal government’s Growing Up in Australia conference in Melbourne this week.
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Associate Professor Linda Harrison will present the research at the “Growing Up in Australia and Footprints in Time: The LSAC and LSIC Research Conference’ at the Rydges on Swanston in Melbourne on Wednesday 16 November at 11.30am.