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.

Ecology of InnovationTo 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).

Read more about Frontiers of Innovation >>


Changing the Focus: Building the Capabilities  of Home-Based Child Care ProvidersINNOVATION IN ACTION

Changing the Focus: Building the Capabilities of Home-Based Child Care Providers

This Innovation in Action interview is the first in a series of portraits planned by the Center that will highlight the innovative, collaborative work occurring in the Frontiers of Innovation community. In this multimedia feature story, FOI member Jessica Sager, the co-founder and executive director of the non-profit organization All Our Kin, discusses its work in New Haven and Bridgeport, Conn., building the capabilities of women in low-income communities who provide care in their homes for infants and toddlers. FOI member Kia Levey, project director for the New Haven Mental Health Outreach for Mothers (MOMS) Partnership—a collaboration of agencies across the city that includes All Our Kin—also discusses the significance of focusing on adults in order to help children facing adversity.

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Driving Science-Based Innovation in Policy & PracticeINTERACTIVE FEATURE

Driving Science-Based Innovation in Policy and Practice: A Logic Model

This narrated interactive feature presents a logic model showing how policies and programs that strengthen specific kinds of caregiver and community capacities can build the foundations of healthy development. These support beneficial biological adaptations in the brain and other organ systems, which lead to positive outcomes in health and development across the lifespan. 


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