The mission of the Center on the Developing Child is to leverage science to enhance child well-being through innovations in policy and practice. Specifically, the Center strives to translate advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, genomics, and the behavioral and social sciences into creative new strategies for action.
The healthy development of young children and their families can be supported through a variety of services, including early care and education, primary health care, home visiting programs, Head Start, early intervention programs, nutritional assistance, financial supports, and therapeutic interventions. However, over the past 50 years, the magnitude of the impacts of such approaches has been variable, and the quality of implementation has been uneven.
Improvements in the quality of existing programs and efforts to coordinate services and enhance access are clearly important, but they are unlikely to be enough to produce breakthrough impacts for children who face the cumulative burdens of low family income, limited parent education, and social exclusion. Those efforts must be supplemented by a new generation of strategies.
Creating the Future of Policy and Practice
Programs, communities, and states that are open to designing and testing new approaches will play a critical role in creating the future of early childhood policy and practice. The Center is committed to working collaboratively with scientists, scholars, policymakers, policy analysts, practitioners, and other creative thinkers who are motivated to engage in the kind of transformational thinking that is needed to drive significant innovation in this field.
Innovative approaches can be shaped by both scientific research and field-based experience aimed at breakthrough outcomes. Such outcomes can include substantially larger impacts on specific measures for an existing target group, the extension of benefits to a more diverse population of children (particularly subgroups not reached by current interventions), and gains in cost effectiveness that enable more efficient application of a previously proven strategy.
To understand the interrelated roles of ideas, people, and environments in an innovation enterprise, think of an ecosystem that supports growing plants. It is the highly interactive mix among climate, seeds, and soil that influences what germinates, what takes root, what survives for a short time, and what flourishes long enough to bear fruit. Much the same is true in innovation in early childhood policy and practice. In an “ecology of innovation,” three core elements require attention:
- seeds—new ideas that offer the potential for substantially more effective policies and practices that are affordable, replicable, and sustainable;
- soil—the rich combination of people and contexts that cultivates promising seeds and catalyzes broader impact; and
- climate—the policy, professional, and funding environments that create incentives and influence the allocation of resources.
This constructive dissatisfaction with the status quo—combined with the conviction that we can and must do better—drives the Center’s flagship initiative on innovation, Frontiers of Innovation (FOI).
Major support for the Frontiers of Innovation Initiative has been provided by: The Alliance for Early Success, Bezos Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Buffett Early Childhood Fund, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Norlien Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard University.