About the Center


Early childhood is a time of both great promise and considerable risk. Assuring the availability of responsive relationships, growth promoting experiences, and healthy environments for all young children helps build sturdy brain architecture and the foundations of resilience. Significant disadvantages, meanwhile, can disrupt the developmental process and lead to limited economic and social mobility that threatens the vitality, productivity, and sustainability of society.

The frontiers of 21st-century science are a relatively untapped source of new ideas that could be used to address such threats by catalyzing more effective policies and services focused on the early years of life. The mission of the Center on the Developing Child is to drive science-based innovation that achieves breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity.

We view current best practices as a starting point, not a solution. We believe that unprecedented improvements in school achievement and economic security, as well as reductions in criminal behavior and chronic disease, can be produced through:

  • A new way of thinking fueled by advances in science; 
  • A new way of working that embraces the culture of innovation; and 
  • A new type of distributed leadership across multiple fields and sectors that is driven by constructive dissatisfaction with modest, incremental change. 

Our goal is meaningful change in policy and practice that produces substantially larger impacts on the learning capacity, health, and economic and social mobility of vulnerable young children. We aim to catalyze a new era in early childhood investment that mobilizes science to stimulate fresh thinking. We are particularly concerned about the needs of children who face the cumulative burdens of poverty, maltreatment, violence, racial and ethnic discrimination, and family mental illness.

Center on the Developing Child Mission and Overview Fact Sheet (PDF)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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Center Director & Staff

Read about Center Director Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., and the staff members at our Cambridge, Mass., office.

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History & Current Context

Learn how the Center came to be and how recent scientific advances have made this a time of opportunity. More >>


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