- National Scientific Council on the Developing Child
- National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs
- Global Children's Initiative
- Frontiers of Innovation
- Science of Adversity and Resilience
- Students, Education and Leadership Development
Building Adult Capabilities to Improve Child Outcomes: A Theory of Change
This 5-minute video depicts a theory of change from the FOI community for achieving breakthrough outcomes for vulnerable children and families.
Voices from FOI: Building Adult Capabilities
This interactive video gallery includes members of FOI speaking about how the initiative’s current, science-based theory of change for achieving breakthrough outcomes for vulnerable children and families is relevant to—and changing—the way they and others work in a range of policy and practice sectors.
Launched in May 2011, Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) focuses on the work of a community of researchers, practitioners, policymakers, philanthropists, and experts in systems change from across North America.
The goal of FOI is to bring about substantially improved outcomes for vulnerable young children whose needs (or whose caregivers' needs) are not being fully met by existing policies and programs. To do that, FOI seeks to spur change in the field by forging cross-sector collaborations that prompt creativity, support experimentation, and foster learning from experience.
FOI’s work draws on science, including advances in the biological, behavioral, and social sciences, to:
- identify reasons why children’s development stays on track or goes off course;
- devise theories of change about how to produce better outcomes; and
- design and test new intervention approaches and measure their effectiveness in reducing barriers to learning and strengthening lifelong physical and mental health.
Stated simply, the FOI community views current best practices as a promising starting point, not a final destination.
Using Science to Bring About Change
A major influence on FOI’s work is our growing understanding of how the over-activation of stress response systems in young children can lead to disruptions in developing brain architecture. When the foundation of that brain architecture is weakened by toxic stress, that creates barriers to learning, as well as the potential for lifelong health problems.
Although many questions about precise causes remain to be answered, growing concerns about the consequences of toxic stress in young children have led the FOI community to propose two fundamental shifts in thinking for early childhood policy and practice: (1) Investments in young children should be viewed as critical building blocks for lifelong health promotion and disease prevention, not just strategies to enhance school readiness and later academic achievement; and (2) There is a compelling need for more effective strategies to protect children from the biological consequences of significant adversity, not just to provide enriched learning opportunities.
Building on these two propositions, the initial portfolio of FOI activities is currently focused on exploring three ideas: (1) Protecting children from the impacts of toxic stress requires selective skill building—not simply the provision of information and support—for the adults who care for them; (2) Interventions that improve the caregiving environment by strengthening the executive function and self-regulation skills of parents with limited education will also enhance their employability, thereby providing an opportunity to augment child outcomes by strengthening the economic and social stability of the family; and (3) Community-based initiatives and broad-based, systems approaches are likely to be more effective in promoting healthy development and reducing intergenerational disparities if they focus explicitly on strengthening neighborhood-level resources and capacities that buffer young children from the adverse impacts of toxic stress.
The FOI community is made up of a highly dynamic and increasingly diverse community of change agents who are committed to the continuous formulation of new ideas in the pursuit of a shared vision: to achieve greater positive impacts on the lives of vulnerable children and their families. That objective is being pursued through activities that work across the program, community, state/province and national levels to forge connections across sectors and to accelerate innovation.
Steve Cohen is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, where he leads CSSP’s partnership with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, with a particular focus on helping public systems take up emerging knowledge about child development to improve policy and practice. Steve was previously vice president and chief program officer of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. His earlier work at Casey included extensive experience helping to reform child welfare systems facing class action litigation. Earlier in his career, Steve served as associate executive director of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, a large, multisystem human services agency in New York City. He also held senior positions in child welfare and juvenile justice in New York City government. Steve holds a master’s degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, and a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.
Philip A. Fisher, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Center on the Developing Child, is also a member of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs. He is a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. He is also a senior scientist at the Oregon Social Learning Center. His work on children in foster care and the child welfare system includes basic research characterizing the effects of early stress on neurobiological systems such as the HPA axis and areas of the prefrontal cortex involved in executive functioning; the development of preventive interventions, including the Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care Program for Preschoolers (MTFC-P) and the Kids in Transition to School Program (KITS); and the dissemination of evidence-based practice in community settings.
Major support for the Frontiers of Innovation Initiative is currently being provided by: The Alliance for Early Success, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bezos Family Foundation, Child Welfare Fund, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Norlien Foundation, and An Anonymous Donor.