Background: Because of poverty, children and families in low- and middle-income countries often face significant impediments to health and well-being. Centre-based day care services may influence the development of children and the economic situation of parents by providing good quality early childhood care and by freeing parents to participate in the labour force.
Objectives: To assess the effects of centre-based day care without additional interventions (e.g. psychological or medical services, parent training) on the development, health and well-being of children and families in low- and middle-income countries (as defined by the World Bank 2011).
Search methods: In April 2014, we searched CENTRAL, Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, ERIC and 16 other sources, including several World Health Organization (WHO) regional databases. We also searched two trials registers, websites of government and non-government agencies and reference lists of relevant studies.
Selection criteria: We included randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials and prospective non-randomised studies with contemporaneous control groups and assessments both before and after intervention. We considered non-randomised controlled trials, as centre-based care in low- and middle-income countries is unlikely to be studied using randomised controlled trials (Higgins 2011). We included the following outcomes: child intellectual development, child psychosocial development, maternal and family outcomes and incidence of infectious diseases.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed risk of bias and extracted data from the single included study.
Main results: Only one trial, involving 256 children, met the inclusion criteria for this review. This study was assessed as having high risk of bias because of non-random allocation, incomplete outcome data and insufficient control of confounding factors. Results from this study suggest that centre-based day care may have a positive effect on child cognitive ability compared with no treatment (care at home) (assessed using a modified version of the British Ability Scale-II (BAS-II) (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.74, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.48 to 1.00, 256 participants, 1 study, very low-quality evidence). This study did not measure other variables relevant to this review.
Authors' conclusions: The single study included in this review provides limited evidence on the effects of centre-based day care for children younger than five years of age in low- and middle-income countries. This study was at high risk of bias and may have limited generalisability to other low- and middle-income countries. Many of the studies excluded from this review paired day care attendance with co-interventions that are unlikely to be provided in normal day care centres. Effectiveness studies on centre-based day care without these co-interventions are few, and the need for such studies is significant. In future studies, comparisons might include home visits or alternative day care arrangements.