Effort to Provide the Best Research on Early Child Development
June 7, 2004 | Press Release

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Provides Funding to Bring Project to Scale


In an effort to close the gap between the science of childhood development and public policies designed to help children, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Brandeis Universitys Heller School has organized what is planned to be the nation's leading resource about early child brain and behavior development for scientists, policymakers, child advocates, and others involved in the first years of a childs life.

There is an unacceptable disconnect between what we know about the many ways that childrens early experiences affect the emerging architecture of their brains and what we are doing to promote early learning, to help preschoolers deal with stress, and to support families and communities in their efforts to raise healthy and competent children, said Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., Chair of the Council and Dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. While scientists have generated extensive new knowledge about child development, relatively little has changed in the public dialogue about how we care for our children, and public policies have been slow to respond to the challenges facing early childhood educators, child care providers, health care professionals, and parents, among many others. The Council is designed to close that gap by translating the science of early development into clear, actionable information.

This month the Council will issue its first major Working Paper, Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, and will launch its website at www.developingchild.net.

The Council will identify key issues related to child development where it believes the science exists to close the gap between what is known and what can be done to improve childrens lives. Efforts will center on working with scientists to help them in explaining often technical information about brain and behavioral research in a way that is more easily understood by people who work for the benefit of children. The Council views this as a necessary challenge of good science education.

We want to help scientists explain to a broader public what they are learning from their researchthat positive relationships with supportive adults can shape, and even rewire, the emerging architecture of young childrens brains, said Shonkoff. This information is crucial not only for good parenting, but also for designing policies and implementing programsincluding Head Start, early care and education, welfare reform, and even parental leaveall of which can provide important benefits for young children if they are guided by sound knowledge.

Recognizing the need to share research within the field and translate it into a form that can be used and understood by non-scientists, in early 2003 researchers from the MacArthur-funded Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development and former members of the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine Committee that produced a landmark report entitled, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, created the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Based at Brandeis University, it was designed to be a source of non-partisan, reliable, useful and readily available information for scientists and policymakers working on issues relating to child brain and behavioral development. Over the course of the past year, Council members reviewed and discussed the current state of research, determining which areas are now sufficiently documented that they can reliably be brought to bear on policy and practice in the field of child brain and behavioral development. Taking it one step further, Council researchers have worked with social and cognitive scientists to determine the best methods for translating and delivering this information to policymakers and others involved in work affecting young children.

One of the biggest hurdles the Council has overcome is figuring out how to get new notions about child development and childrearing into public discourse, said Jonathan Fanton, President of MacArthur, which made a recent grant of $750,000 to help bring the Council to scale over the next three years. In bringing together scientists who understand child development with specialists who understand how our society processes information, the Council has devised strategies to ensure new research makes its way into living rooms, legislatures, city councils, and classrooms across the country.

To update public understanding of child development and help scientists translate and deliver research findings to policymakers and others who work for the benefit of children, MacArthur funds will be used to extend the initial website; prepare and release working papers related to child development and the gap between science, policy, and practice; produce commentary, articles, and syndicated columns; engage members and other scientists in press briefings and speaking engagements, and explore other forums for public discussion. The Council will also develop curricula and other training materials for use in graduate-level education programs at the Council members universities.

The Council, chaired by Shonkoff, includes 11 other researchers connected to the study of early childhood development and has an ongoing partnership with the FrameWorks Institute, a nonprofit association of scholars and practitioners who study communications from the perspective of the social and cognitive sciences. A full list of members is attached.

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