Bringing Research, Policy, and Practice Together for Children and Families
The intersection of research, policy, and practice is where, most of the time, you’ll find developmental and community psychologist Hirokazu Yoshikawa. With wide-ranging experience and expertise revolving around improving the lives of the most vulnerable children and families, Yoshikawa, who is a Center-affiliated faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), plays a leading role in several Center-based initiatives. At HGSE, he is the academic dean and a professor of education.
As a member of the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs, a multi-university collaboration that assesses and interprets research on the effectiveness of early childhood programs and practices, Yoshikawa co-leads the team that is building the nation’s most comprehensive database of early childhood program evaluation studies. Over the course of nearly 50 years, researchers have evaluated programs that serve children from the prenatal period to age 5 and their families, yet no recent attempt has been made to collect and analyze data from all of the studies that meet rigorous standards for quality research. The creation of such a database paves the way for larger analyses of the collected data (known as meta-analyses) and, in turn, for drawing conclusions that can inform public policy decisions.
Yoshikawa, who is co-principal investigator on the database project with two other members of the National Forum and a scientist from Johns Hopkins University, believes that, when completed, the database could make significant and long-term contributions to the field. “Summarizing the whole body of literature quantitatively is really powerful,” he says.
Being able to combine data from thousands of reports on early childhood programs can help quantify the effects of a particular type of program or policy—or even identify effectiveness factors, the specific characteristics that make some programs or policies successful, explains Yoshikawa. “You are actually trying to predict the features of programs and policies that are associated with larger effects on kids. It’s the real way to get down to that kernel of significance,” which, he points out, can be key to accurate and meaningful policy analysis.
Yoshikawa also studies early childhood development internationally, conducting a project on the development of young children and adolescents in Nanjing, China, as well as evaluating a program for young children in Santiago, Chile. The latter, known as Un Buen Comienzo (UBC), is a cluster-randomized controlled trial of a preschool health and education intervention that has received some funding from the Center. As an outgrowth of his international work, Yoshikawa is participating in two Center groups that have been advising and helping to lead the launch of the Center’s new global child development agenda. Along with Paul Harris, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Education at HGSE, and Catherine Snow, the Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor of Education at HGSE, Yoshikawa co-leads the Center’s Global Early Childhood Development Research Group, which convened a July 2009 meeting that brought 25 of the world’s premier scholars and researchers in early childhood development to Cambridge to help set the Center’s international research agenda. He also participates in the Global Early Childhood Development Advisory Group, helping the Center to identify its unique role in the global policy arena and in shaping its public engagement activities with leaders in key international institutions.
Yoshikawa, who has been conducting research in early childhood development since the early 1990s, well before his arrival at Harvard in 2006, is also one of the co-principal investigators on the Tulsa Children’s Project. That initiative, a collaboration with Tulsa Educare and the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, is, initially, a feasibility pilot of selected dimensions of a larger, multi-pronged, highly integrated intervention model designed to reduce the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
As an expert on the effects of parental work and family economics on child development, and as co-editor of Making It Work: Low-Wage Employment, Family Life, and Child Development, Yoshikawa is leading the workforce development component of the Tulsa project. In this capacity, he is helping to design ways of connecting parents with good jobs, even if the parents have fairly low skill levels. Job training is part of this approach, he says, as are financial supports and incentives to help make job training less of a drain away from paid work hours—or to support the extra costs of child care, for example.
“It’s an extension of my work around family economic factors,” says Yoshikawa, who also conducts research with immigrant families in New York City. “To have a project where that is integrated into an early childhood intervention and is part of this kind of quality-improvement initiative has been exciting and something I wouldn’t have done on my own.”
-- Millicent Lawton
Photo by Fred Field