Our nation’s future prosperity hinges on our children’s capacity to enter adulthood fully equipped to become productive workers and citizens. Yet children growing up in America today face a dual threat to their healthy development. Many parents are struggling to maintain their financial footing in the face of sluggish job growth after the recession, flat or falling wages, and the lingering effects of the foreclosure crisis. At the same time, fiscal pressure has led to cuts in the programs and systems that support children’s development and buffer the effects of their parents’ financial stress. A growing body of evidence suggests that the resulting family instability and insecurity undermine children’s development and weaken parents’ ability to protect their kids.
Any effective strategy for children must recognize and address the challenges confronting their parents, along with the broader array of community factors and service systems that affect children directly and their parents’ ability to support them. And because children’s health and development are shaped by many factors, outcomes in one area (such as nutrition or school readiness) are affected by actions in other areas (such as work supports or community violence prevention). Solutions require looking beyond narrow definitions of children’s issues and cutting through conventional policy boundaries to find the most cost-effective ways to deploy public resources as part of a coordinated strategy.
Tackling the threats to our children’s future requires creative strategies to strengthen the protection around children—their families, their communities, and the systems that support their development—so they can thrive. To advance such multigenerational and multidimensional strategies, advocates, practitioners, and policymakers need reliable information and timely analysis that looks beyond the boundaries of traditional disciplines. The Kids in Context initiative identifies and documents critical gaps in systems designed to support families and children, focusing on where reforms could make the biggest difference. We assess neighborhood, city, state, and national innovations and explore conditions that contribute to their success. We generate concrete lessons for policy and practice from emerging research.
Our researchers are unique in the breadth of expertise and perspectives they bring to this cross-center work. They span the full range of policy systems (from child care to workforce development, from health care to housing, from nutrition to tax policy) and work across traditional academic and research boundaries to examine issues that are too often observed in isolation. Our work is designed to be useful for policymakers, practitioners, and thought leaders working on behalf of children and families.
A growing body of research highlights the damage that instability of all kinds inflicts on children’s development and success. We recently hosted a convening of policymakers, practitioners, and researchers from different domains to begin talking about what we know and what we need to do about instability and children’s well-being. The discussion surfaced new ideas about how family supports, housing assistance, child care subsidies, and school assignment policies interact to either exacerbate instability in children’s lives or buffer its effects.