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Celebrating Fathers with Heart

June 18, 2017

Happy Father’s Day to the incredible parents who make up our alumni, faculty, staff and community. In honour of this special occasion, we spoke with Assistant Professor Michael Kottelenberg about his research with the hope of delivering a special kid-centric gift to our Huron dads. Michael teaches a variety of economics courses at Huron University College. He considers himself a data nerd and puts his passion for evaluating patterns to work while conducting research to determine the effects of Universal Child Care policies on child development.

Through his research, Michael aims to evaluate how programs that push to provide affordable child care influence children’s cognitive and non-cognitive progress. To do this, Michael gleaned archival data spanning more than a decade to look for patterns that indicate if child care affects children’s IQ scores, vocabulary, emotional wellness and physical development. What Michael and his research partner, Steven Lehrer, recognized is different types of children are affected differently by child care.  

For the purposes of his research, Michael identifies children from a range of abilities using an age appropriate cognitive test score. Children are very complex, and this typecasting of ability levels may not accurately portray their capacity, but the simplification better enables researchers to gauge the cause and effect of influencers being measured. This simplification also extends to the categorization of homes i.e. stables versus unstable homes. Michael estimated the stability of the child’s environment by looking at qualities such as, how much focused time are parents spending with their kids. For example, parents were asked to report on how much they read with their children.  

To Michael’s surprise, high ability children were unaffected with the introduction of the Universal Child Care program. This is unexpected because the tendency is to think high ability children come from more stable families, so there may be a larger gap between the engagement they are used to and what can be provided in a child care setting.

Alternatively, children with lower abilities seemed to experience greater negative effects when put into child care. Again, this did not align with their predictions, because the thought was children from less stable homes may benefit from entering a more structured, supervised environment. However, Michael did acknowledge that there have been a wide array of findings surrounding the implementation of accessible child care and its effects on child development.

Some of the variations in data can be accounted for by whether the child comes from a one or two parent household. The above results all refer to children from two parent homes. In opposition to the findings outlined so far, low ability children from single parent homes actually do fairly well when put into child care.

The real push of Michael’s thesis is why children’s developmental test scores are affected differently and how parents support their children’s optimal growth. Michael admits, when it comes to kids – with all their variables and external influencers – it’s difficult to make blanket statements that will do justice for all of them.

But, his research seems to suggest children’s test scores are proportionally affected based on how much parents continue to interact with them after they enter child care. For example, parents of lower ability children more significantly decrease the amount of meaningful time spent with their children – resulting in a steeper decline in development than their higher ability peers whose parents continued to engage with them at nearly the same level.