Objective Approximately 58 million of children living in rural areas in China have been left behind after their parents migrated to cities to find work. The impacts of parental migration on the early development of left-behind children (LBC) are uncertain. We conducted a preliminary cross-sectional survey to investigate the prevalence of these left-behind children, their status of early childhood development and associated risk factors.
Methods A total of 1107 children were enrolled from two counties in Anhui province, China. Their caregivers completed questionnaires on demographics, the Early Childhood Development Questionnaire and the Parenting Self-efficacy Scale.
Results The estimated prevalence of left-behind children in the area was 86.6% (959/1107), comprising 30.8% (341/1107) and 55.8% (618/1107) children as a result of migration of either parent or both parents, respectively. The duration of breastfeeding for LBC was significant lower than those staying with mothers (8.74 vs. 10.14; p < 0.01). LBC had fewer reading books than non-left-behind children (NLBC) (p < 0.05). LBC also showed fewer times of physical check and higher case rate of diarrhoea in the last two weeks than NLBC. Male LBC who were fostered by caregivers with lower levels of parenting efficacy, and came from poorer families with less social support, experienced more mental health problems than other children.
Conclusions The study confirmed some negative outcomes for children who were left-behind in their early childhood. As the huge population proportion of LBC in rural China, more research on intervention strategies to improve the early development of LBC is urgently needed.