NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Child care centres are often as good for the parents as for the youngsters when it comes to making friends and building a support network, according to a U.S. study.
Researchers from the University of Chicago found that many child care centers have an overlooked function -- connecting parents with each other as informal advisers in child rearing, and with agencies that help with the challenges of parenting.
"Parents come to school to find someone to care for their children, and they end up learning ways of taking care of each other," said researcher Mario Small, professor in sociology, in a statement.
"When you are a parent, particularly a first-time parent, the best resource you have is another parent."
The study of 3,500 mothers in 20 U.S. cities found that child care centers become locations where parents can build "social capital" -- the contacts they need to help with concerns such as a child's development and finding good health care and schools.
Mothers in particular build up their network by working together on fundraising activities and going on field trips, leading to friendships in which they advise each other on a child's health or help each out when there is an emergency.
The research showed benefits for all parents, regardless of their financial status.
The study found mothers with children in child care centers had at least one more good friend than other mothers.
Mothers who were financially better off and who made friends at day care centers were nearly 60 percent less likely to be depressed than those who did not make friends.
The researchers also studied 300 day care centres in New York to conclude that parents' networks were particularly strong at child care centres that organized parties involving parents and had strict pick-up and drop-off times where parents met regularly.
"What we found was that often the most useful friends, completely unexpected valuable contacts, come from people we meet when we have volunteered, in the case of these parents, who assisted in a field trip or helped raise funds," said Small.
Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy