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Depression in Child-Care Providers Affects Children, Study Shows

Depression among child-care providers is associated with problems such as aggression and sadness in the young children they care for, in part because these adults create a poor-quality child-care environment, according to a report published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

The study sample came from 761 children from urban, low-income backgrounds who were 3 years old in the late 1990s. The children are part of the ongoing Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Lieny Jeon, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral fellow in human sciences at Ohio State University in Columbus, said in a press release from the university that she wanted to investigate the role of teachers on childrens' mental health. 

The study, published in April, contains data from families in 15 cities that reported using child-care services for 3-year-old children for at least five hours per week. The study also provided research teams who surveyed teachers of those children and observed their child-care environments. Providers also completed a survey that rated their depressed mood during the last two weeks.

The report showed a direct relationship between teacher depression and "externalizing" problems in children, such as anger and aggression, as well as "internalizing" problems, such as anxiety, sadness or withdrawal. Both types of problems were reported by teachers, though teacher depression did not appear to result in more reports of externalizing problems from the mothers of the children in the sample. 

This has not been the first time researchers have found a connection between teacher and child well-being. Teachers who report having symptoms of depression and high levels of job stress also expel more children, according to research published in 2008 by Walter S. Gilliam, the director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University. Gilliam's research found that "prekindergarten teachers and child-care staff who report elevated symptoms of depression are somewhat more likely to engage in child-care practices that are rated as less sensitive to children's needs, more intrusive, and more negative."

Jeon plans to expand her work to create a program to support the emotional health of early-childhood educators, she said in the release. 

"Most training for teachers is about managing the classroom and addressing behavioral problems," she said. Teachers "don't have the time or resources to address their own psychological difficulties, or access to any specialized mental health services."

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