Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The Effects of Early Years’ Childcare on Child Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties in Lone and Co-Parent Family Situations


With targeted childcare initiatives and welfare-to-work programmes policy-makers have sought to address employment activation of lone mothers and negative outcomes for children in lone parent households. The present study examines non-parental childcare use and maternal employment among children living in lone and co-parent family situations at ages three and four and emotional and behavioural difficulties at ages four and five. The results demonstrate that negative outcomes associated with lone motherhood are explained largely by mother's age, education, material circumstances and area deprivation; and that maternal employment does not relieve lone mothers’ disadvantages in a way that alleviates the risks of difficulties to their children. However, in any family constellation, mainly group-based formal pre-school childcare does have a positive impact on child difficulties compared to drawing on informal childcare arrangements as main provider. In addition, and specifically for the difficulties of children in lone mother family situations, any non-parental childcare – formal or informal − for at least twenty-five hours per week is beneficial. Study findings support policy agendas which tackle families’ material hardship beyond promoting mothers’ employment, and through investment in formal childcare provision, and also through arrangements allowing lone mothers to divide their weekly load of childcare with another main provider.

Corresponding author
Hide All
P. R. Amato and B. Keith (1991), ‘Parental divorce and adult well-being: a meta-analysis’, Journal Marriage and Family, 53: 1, 4358.

G. H. Brody and R. Forehand (1986), ‘Maternal perceptions of child maladjustment as a function of the combined influence of child behavior and maternal depression’, Journal Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54: 2, 237–40.

P. L. Chase-Lansdale , A. J. Cherlin and K. K. Kiernan (1995), ‘The long-term effects of parental divorce on the mental health of young adults: a developmental perspective’, Child Development, 66: 1614–34.

J. R. Crawford and J. D. Henry (2003), ‘The depression anxiety stress scales (DASS): normative data and latent structure in a large non-clinical sample’, British Journal Clinical Psychology, 42: 111–31.

J. E. Dumas and W. J. Serketich (1994), ‘Maternal depressive symptomatology and child maladjustment: a comparison of three process models’, Behavior Therapy, 25: 161–81.

J. Dunn , K. Deater-Deckard , K. Pickering , T. G. O'Connor and J. Golding (1998), ‘Children's adjustment and prosocial behaviour in step-, single-parent, and non-stepfamily settings: findings from a community study’, Journal Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39: 8, 1083–95.

M. Ely , M. Richards , M. Wadsworth and B. Elliott (1999), ‘Secular changes in the association of parental divorce and children's educational attainment – evidence from three British birth cohorts’, Journal Social Policy, 28: 3, 437–55.

D. R. Entwisle and K. L. Alexander (1995), ‘A parent's economic shadow: family structure versus family resources as influences on early school achievement’, Journal Marriage and Family, 57: 2, 399409.

J. Ermisch and M. Francesconi (2000), ‘The increasing complexity of family relationships: life-time experience of lone motherhood and stepfamilies in Great Britain’, European Journal Population, 16: 3, 235–49.

A. Goodman , D. L. Lamping and G. B. Ploubidis (2010), ‘When to use broader internalising and externalising subscales instead of the hypothesised five subscales on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ): data from British parents, teachers and children’, Journal Abnormal Child Psychology, 38: 1179–91.

A. Goodman and R. Goodman (2011), ‘Population mean scores predict child mental disorder rates: validating SDQ prevalence estimators in Britain’, Journal Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52: 100–08.

P. Gregg , E. Washbrook , C. Propper and S. Burgess (2005), ‘The effects of a mother's return to work decision on child development in the UK’, Economic Journal, 115: 4880.

D. L. Griest , R. Forehand , K. C. Wells and R. J. McMahon (1980), ‘An examination of differences between nonclinic and behavior-problem clinic-referred children and their mothers’, Journal Abnormal Psychology, 89: 3, 497500.

D. Gross , A. Sambrook and L. Fogg (1999), ‘Behavior problems among young children in low-income urban daycare centers’, Research in Nursing and Health, 22: 1525.

J. Hutchings , T. Bywater , D. Daley , F. Gardner , C. Whitaker , K. Jones , C. Eames and R. T. Edwards (2007), ‘Parenting intervention in Sure Start services for children at risk of developing conduct disorder: pragmatic randomised control trial’, British Medical Journal, 334: 678682.

H. Joshi , E. C. Cooksey , R. D. Wiggins , A. McCulloch , G. Verropoulou and L. Clarke (1999), ‘Diverse family living situations and child development: a multi-level analysis comparing longitudinal evidence from Britain and the United States’, International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 13: 3, 292314.

K. E. Kiernan (1992), ‘The impact of family disruption in childhood on transitions made in young adult life’, Population Studies, 46: 2, 213–34.

M. Kilkey and J. Bradshaw (1999), ‘Lone mothers, economic well-being, and policies’, in D. Sainsbury (ed.), Gender and Welfare State Regimes, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

J. Millar and T. Ridge (2008), ‘Relationships of care: working lone mothers, their children and employment sustainability’, Journal of Social Policy, 38: 1, 103–21.

M. K. Mulvaney , C. J. Mebert and J. Flint (2007), ‘Parental affect and childrearing beliefs uniquely predict mothers’ and fathers’ ratings of children's behavior problems’, Journal Applied Developmental Psychology, 28: 445–57.

K. Rowlingson and S. McKay (2005), ‘Lone motherhood and socio-economic disadvantage: insights from quantitative and qualitative evidence’, Sociological Review, 53: 1, 3049.

E. Thomson , T. L. Hanson and S. S. McLanahan (1994), ‘Family structure and child well-being: economic resources vs. parental behaviors’, Social Forces, 73: 1, 221–42.

K. Winter (2009), ‘Recent policy initiatives in early childhood and the challenges for the Social Work profession’, British Journal Social Work, 39: 1235–55.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-social-policy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 14
Total number of PDF views: 112 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 534 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.