Toddlers looked after by mothers 'develop better'

The findings will show that those given nursery care fared worst. They exhibited higher levels of aggression and were inclined to become more compliant, withdrawn or sad.

Those looked after by grandparents and other relatives fared a little better.

Youngsters looked after by childminders and nannies came second in terms of their development to those who stayed at home with mother.

The research, involving 1,200 children and their families in north London and Oxfordshire, is based on a study of the development of children over a four-year period. They were first studied when they were three months old and then at regular periods until they reached the age of 51 months.

It was due to be presented to a conference in London today by one of its co-authors, Penelope Leach, president of the National Childminders' Association.

The report will reignite the debate over the best way to bring up young children, but Ms Leach is at pains to point out that it does not mean that "every child in a large nursery becomes a monster" - or that all those looked after by mothers were better off. Children of mothers suffering depression did better with childminders or nurseries. What the research stressed, she will argue, is a need for high-quality developmental care for nought to three-year-olds.

For instance, a ratio of one adult to three children in a nursery could often mean that one adult was taking a break while a second was preparing lunch - leaving one to cope with nine toddlers on their own. By contrast, childminders had a maximum of three children under the age of five in their care.

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