Center Director Jack P. Shonkoff’s engagement in two prior ventures laid the foundation for the Center’s distinctive mission. The first was the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development, which produced the landmark report in 2000, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. The second was the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development, which modeled the transformative impact of interdisciplinary thinking and joint research at the intersection of neuroscience and developmental psychology.
In 2003, in an effort to leverage this newly synthesized and growing body of knowledge to inform effective, science-based policy, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child was created. Initially drawing its membership from the two initiatives listed above, the Council integrates expertise in the biological and behavioral sciences with sophisticated communications research to translate the science of early childhood and early brain development for public decision-making. To complement the Council’s focus on basic science, the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs, formerly the National Forum on Early Childhood Program Evaluation, was established in 2006 to synthesize and communicate what we know from intervention research.
Also in 2006, Dr. Shonkoff and key staff members supporting the National Scientific Council founded the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, with a commitment to build upon the previous work of the Council with an expanded mandate and mission. In addition to knowledge translation and public engagement, the Center would help to build a new knowledge base—a unified science of health, learning, and behavior to explain the early roots of lifelong impairment—and lead the design, implementation, and evaluation of innovative program and practice models that reduce preventable disparities in well-being, as well as prepare current and future leaders to build and leverage knowledge that promotes the healthy development of children and families and brings high returns to all of society.
The Center on the Developing Child occupies a unique niche among university-based institutes and independent think tanks. Its portfolio draws on faculty in the Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Boston Children’s Hospital and other Harvard-affiliated hospitals, as well as a growing number of partners beyond the Harvard community. Few institutions have the capacity to call on the contributions of so many distinguished leaders in molecular biology, neuroscience, genetics, psychology, sociology, economics, and the professional disciplines of education, public health, public policy, medicine, law, and business, among others. Rarely does an academic center achieve a comparable level of sustained collaboration with a diversity of independent organizations, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, FrameWorks Institute, and TruePoint Center for Higher Ambition Leadership. Building on these extensive resources, the Center’s greatest promise lies in its ability to leverage that collective expertise to secure a brighter future for the world through enlightened investment in its children.
A remarkable explosion of knowledge about the developing brain and the human genome, linked to advances in the behavioral and social sciences, offers policymakers, civic leaders, and practitioners exceptional opportunities that did not exist a decade ago. Science shows increasing promise for improving our understanding of how the foundations of successful adaptation and effective learning in the childhood years lead to better outcomes in academic achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, and successful parenting of the next generation. Through building, teaching, and applying this growing knowledge base, we have an unprecedented opportunity today to shepherd a science-driven era to promote the healthy development of all children, particularly those whose life prospects are compromised by significant adversity.
Center Director & Staff
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