Where and how does policy need to shift to help social issues? How can we transform education, inequalities, labor issues, outcomes for children and families and immigration through policy?

Social policy has the ability to transform lives, across all sectors of society. Through research and education, Sanford faculty provide students with an understanding of the impact of laws, regulations, and data on social outcomes. The intent is to improve the lives of citizens by supporting their education, work, health and wellbeing. The school and our faculty aim to promote equity by identifying and addressing inequalities in access to supports and services for individuals and communities. 


  • Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Family Connects
  • Hart Leadership Program
  • North Carolina Education Research Data Center  
  • Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity
  • Social Science Research Institute


Our faculty have testified before Congress and advised legislators on gun control, anti-trafficking legislation, poverty programs, education programs and many other issues; worked with community partners around North Carolina on issues; created a nurse home-visiting program that reduces child abuse; supported schools to facilitate language and literacy skills for English learners; helped teachers implement high-impact instructional strategies; designed a community-based program for caregivers of veterans; and produced thousands of research findings that contribute to the knowledge base for evidence-driven policy.


Related programs/courses

  • Public Policy Studies major
  • Child Policy Research Certificate (open to all Duke majors)

MPP (Social Policy Concentration available) - View concentration requirements

PhD in Public Policy

Research Center


Leslie Babinski, Director, The Center for Child and Family Policy

The Center for Child and Family Policy pursues science-based solutions to important problems affecting today’s children and families. The Center emphasizes the bridge from research to policy and practice through an integrated system of research, teaching, service and policy engagement.


Research Feature

Policymakers and the public need updates on how families are faring during the COVID-19 crisis. A research project by Anna Gassman-Pines draws on data from an ongoing study of over 1,000 service workers with young children. Economic instability remains high, food insecurity has increased, and safety nets are not reaching everyone. She provides recommended actions for policymakers to keep struggling families afloat.

Listen to the podcast

Student Spotlight

"I had the tremendous privilege of participating in the historic White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health. Being able to attend this conference and represent the Duke World Food Policy Center and my food policy research with El Departamento de la Comida (El Depa)—a food sovereignty and mutual aid organization based out of Puerto Rico—was an immense honor." - Denise Rebeil MPP'23

Read about Rebeil's experience

Faculty Spotlight

Lisa Gennetian uses the tools of economics to get at the thorny policy questions about poverty, inequality and the well-being of children, asking big questions about public investments and services for families.

Learn more about Prof. Gennetian

Key Faculty: Social Policy

Take a look at core members of our faculty who focus on policy related to social issues.

Core Faculty

Diversity Spotlight

In September 2020, Sanford hosted the “Stand for Justice” event in partnership with the Hart Leadership Program and the Wilson Center for Science and Justice. Moderated by Duke Law professor Brandon Garrett, Sanford hosted Kassandra Frederique from the Drug Policy Alliance, Alec Karakatsanis from the Civil Rights Corps, and Bianca Tylek from Worth Rises, organizations that are doing challenging work in dismantling the prison industrial complex and serving people that have been systematically funneled into the criminal justice system.

Browse all 'Stand For' Events

Related Videos

Featured Video

Dramatic Social Change Requires Imagination

William A. (“Sandy”) Darity Jr. is the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.

Featured Video

Darren Walker Visits the Sanford School

Darren Walker visited the Sanford School of Public Policy to deliver the 2020 Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture Series. Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, an international social justice philanthropy.

Related Podcasts

Policy 360

The Wealth of America’s Dependents

Ways & Means

How Sputnik Sent Women to College

Social Policy News

Faculty In the News: Social Policy