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Stress, cortisol and well-being of caregivers and children in home-based child care: a case for differential susceptibility


Harriet J. Vermeer, Centre for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, P.O. Box 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands. E-mail:


Background  We examined whether children cared for by stressed caregivers show lower socio-emotional well-being and more stress, compared with children cared for by less stressed caregivers.

Methods  Perceived stress and cortisol levels of professional caregivers (n= 44), and associations with children's (n= 44) well-being and cortisol levels in home-based child care were examined.

Results  Caregiver perceived stress and cortisol levels were related to children's well-being but not to children's cortisol levels. Children's social fearfulness acted as a moderator between caregivers' mean ratio of diurnal change in cortisol and children's well-being. When caregiver cortisol levels decreased, more fearful children were reported higher on well-being than less fearful peers. In contrast, when caregiver cortisol levels increased, more fearful children were reported lower on well-being.

Conclusions  The findings point to differential susceptibility. Child care organizations and parents need to notice that a non-stressful child care environment is in particular important for children with a difficult temperament.

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