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Harvard University


Center on the Developing Child

Jack Shonkoff, M.D.



The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University was founded in 2006 on the belief that the vitality and sustainability of any society depend on the extent to which it equalizes opportunities early in life for all children to achieve their full potential and engage in responsible and productive citizenship. We view healthy child development as the foundation of economic prosperity and strong communities, and our mission is to advance that vision by leveraging science to enhance child well-being.

Drawing on the full breadth of intellectual resources available across Harvard University's schools and affiliated hospitals, the Center generates, translates, and applies knowledge in the service of closing the gap between what we know and what we do to support positive life outcomes for children, particularly those who are vulnerable, in the United States and throughout the world.

Specifically, the Center is committed to:

  • building a multi-disciplinary science of child health, learning, and behavior that elucidates the early roots of lifelong disparities;
  • advancing our understanding of how to reduce preventable disparities through rigorous analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation of innovative program and practice models;
  • catalyzing the creation of effective, science-based policies and practices through strategic relationships and enhanced capacity for knowledge transfer; and
  • preparing future and current leaders to make science-based policy decisions that advance the healthy development of children, families, and communities, and bring high returns to all of society.

Current initiatives include:

  • The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child focuses on the analysis, synthesis, and communication of the science of early childhood and early brain development (birth to age 5) in order to inform science-based policymaking.
  • The National Forum on Early Childhood Program Evaluation focuses on the analysis, synthesis, and communication of research evidence on program effectiveness (birth to age 5), as well as data on broader health and family support services, in order to inform science-based policymaking and practice.
  • The Child Mental Health Network will address the gap between what we know and what we do related to child and adolescent mental health. This represents the first Center initiative focusing on the full span of childhood development until young adulthood. The goals of this initiative are to generate, integrate, communicate, and apply the science of children's mental health to inform policy and practice, and to make scientific advances more transparent in order to inform public understanding.
  • The Tulsa Project provides a collaborative, community-based laboratory for designing, testing, and refining innovative strategies for reducing the cycle of intergenerational poverty through new approaches to intervention in the early childhood years. Funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and working in partnership with the Community Action Project of Tulsa and The University of Oklahoma - Tulsa, this initiative brings together a team of distinguished scholars to focus on family economic security, the mental health of children, parents, and service providers, and the integration of health and developmental services for children.

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