Sanford is committed to advancing research, education, and policy solutions that improve the well-being of children and families. The school's Center for Child and Family Policy (CCFP) is an interdisciplinary research center that brings together scholars from a variety of fields, including economics, psychology, sociology, and public policy, to address critical issues facing children and families in the United States and around the world.
CCFP conducts research on a wide range of topics related to child policy, including early childhood education, child welfare, juvenile justice, poverty and inequality, and mental health. Through its research, the center seeks to identify evidence-based solutions that can improve outcomes for children and families and promote social and economic mobility.
The center also engages in education and outreach efforts, providing training and resources to policymakers, practitioners, and advocates who work with children and families.
Here are some recent highlights of the work Sanford is doing to lift up and support children and families.
Child Poverty Research
Christina Gibson-Davis and Lisa Gennetian published a study titled "Net Worth Poverty and Child Development" that details the financial, social, and psychological tolls that child poverty has on society. A third of US households with children were “net worth poor” before the pandemic, lacking enough financial resources to sustain their families for three months at a poverty level. Families with perilously low levels of net worth outnumbered families who were poor based on income. Net worth poverty has been rising over the past 30 years and Black and Latino families were twice as likely to experience it. The authors emphasize that poverty's costs extend beyond financial hardship and cause social and psychological harm to children and their families, decreasing economic mobility and opportunity in the long run.
The study was featured in a MarketWatch article that discusses the financial vulnerability of many American families and highlights the need for policies that address poverty's root causes. The article notes that millions of families in the United States lacked the financial cushion to cover three months of expenses before the COVID-19 pandemic and that the pandemic has only worsened financial insecurity.
This research was also highlighted by Duke Today.
Trauma-Informed teaching During COVID-19
Katie Rosanbalm worked with Mashable to highlight the ways in which COVID-19 had a significant impact on the mental health of students, teachers, and families. In response, some schools are implementing trauma-informed teaching practices to support students' emotional and academic needs. These practices aim to create a safe and supportive learning environment that takes into account the effects of trauma on students' behavior and learning. Rosanbalm suggests that trauma-informed teaching can help build resilience and foster positive outcomes for students, especially those who have experienced trauma. She also highlights the importance of training teachers and providing them with the necessary resources to implement these practices effectively. The North Carolina Resilience and Learning Project, a joint initiative by Duke University and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, is an example of a program that provides trauma-informed teaching training to teachers and school staff. By prioritizing students' mental health and well-being, schools can create a more supportive and effective learning environment for all students.
Assessing Childhood Mental Health
A recent study conducted by Drew Rothenberg, Jennifer Lansford, Jennifer Godwin, and Kenneth Dodge suggests that early mental health intervention for children has long-term positive effects that can extend to future generations. The study followed participants of the Fast Track project, a comprehensive intervention program designed to address behavioral and emotional issues in children from low-income families. Data showed that children who received the intervention were less likely to experience negative life events and more likely to have better mental health outcomes as adults. Additionally, the children of those who received the intervention had fewer behavioral and emotional issues and better social skills as adolescents, and were more likely to have completed high school by age 22.
This work emphasizes the importance of early intervention and prevention programs for children and families, particularly those from low-income backgrounds who may be more vulnerable to negative outcomes. It also suggests that these interventions can have a lasting impact, not only on the children who receive them but also on future generations. The authors call for increased investment in evidence-based prevention programs, as they offer a cost-effective way to improve outcomes for individuals and families while also benefiting society as a whole.
Freakonomics Child Poverty and Early Education
In a recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast, Lisa Gennetian discusses the high rate of child poverty in the United States despite being the richest country in the world. Calling upon her expertise in economics, the discussion revolves around policy ideas often cited in fighting child poverty and the reasons why certain solutions (like cash payments) have both positive and negative consequences in raising the living standards of the impoverished. Ultimately, Gennetian points out the most important point, that any policies that look to solve child poverty must be inclusive and well-researched.
She states, "You worry about families and children that fall through the cracks. You worry about children who are being raised with one parent who is being asked to work and doesn’t have child care. You worry about children in a family that has a crisis, let’s say, where the lead earner is injured but not disabled and thus not eligible for disability benefits. You worry about how the jobs available might not be designed to be supportive to families and children."
the role of parents in closing the education gap
In an article for The Atlantic, Jennifer Lansford highlights the importance of parental involvement in children's education. Lansford explains that parental engagement can have a significant impact on academic outcomes, with research showing that children whose parents are involved in their education tend to perform better in school and have higher levels of academic achievement. She suggests that parents can support their children's education by setting high expectations, providing educational resources, and creating a positive home learning environment.
However, Lansford also acknowledges that many parents face challenges that can make it difficult to be involved in their children's education, such as limited resources, time constraints, and language barriers. She emphasizes the need for schools to work with families to overcome these obstacles and create a supportive environment that fosters student success. The article emphasizes the critical role of parental involvement in education and underscores the need for schools and communities to support parents in their efforts to promote their children's academic achievement.
Duke Media Briefing on Pandemic Stress
Anna Gassman-Pines participated in a Duke Media Briefing focused on the negative impact the pandemic had on families, particularly mothers who had to leave their jobs to oversee remote learning. Disruptions in schooling and childcare, such as internet outages or closures due to exposure, also took a toll on parents' and children's daily routines and mental health. Gassman-Pines emphasized that the most vulnerable families need more financial support to cover the basics, such as rent and food. The CARES Act and one-time stimulus checks that went out in 2020 did help buffer the most severe income losses, but many families are still suffering from high levels of income loss and resulting strain. Gassman-Pines stressed the need for another round of stimulus checks to make a significant difference for the most vulnerable families. Additionally, she pointed out that the policy response, such as making unemployment insurance more generous during this crisis period, can also support families' needs. Finally, Gassman-Pines acknowledges that essential workers, particularly those in food service, grocery stores, and pharmacies, were largely working in person, but the vaccine distribution to essential workers was a reason for hope moving forward.
This briefing was quoted by several news outlets including The News & Observer and WCNC Charlotte, among others. Gassman-Pines also appeared on Health Affairs “A Health Podyssey” podcast to discuss these topics further.
Fresh Air means better student Attendance
Sarah Komisarow’s study "Are Power Plant Closures a Breath of Fresh Air? Local Air Quality and School Absences" was featured in Edutopia's "10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2020." In this paper Komisarow and her co-author study the effects of three large, nearly-simultaneous coal-fired power plant closures on school absences in Chicago. They found that the closures resulted in a 7 percent reduction in absenteeism in nearby schools relative to those farther away following the closures. For the typical elementary school in the sample, this translates into around 372 fewer absence-days per year in the aggregate, or around 0.71 fewer annual absences per student. They found that reductions in absences were larger in schools where pre-closure exposure to coal-fired power plants was more intense: namely, schools with low levels of air conditioning, schools more frequently in the wind path of the plants, and non-magnet (i.e., neighborhood) schools where students were more likely to live nearby.
COVID Nutrition Program Changes Benefit NC Moms and Kids
A report by Carolyn Barnes highlights how changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have benefitted families in North Carolina. Prior to the pandemic, the WIC program made it difficult for families to access healthy foods due to restrictions on eligible items, limited shopping hours, and long lines. However, during the pandemic, WIC relaxed its restrictions on eligible items and extended shopping hours. This allowed families to stock up on healthy food items and reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 by avoiding crowded stores. The report that these changes to WIC were particularly beneficial to low-income mothers and their children, who are more likely to experience food insecurity and rely on WIC for nutrition support. The report suggests that some of these changes, such as the option to order food online for pick-up, should be made permanent to better serve families in need.
Barnes was recently elected to the National Academy of Social Insurance.
Policy 360 Podcast Episode
CCFP Director Jennifer Lansford was profiled on Policy 360, a Sanford podcast highlighting policy researchers and their work.
Student Perspective: Sophie Hurewitz
"Newly published research examining adolescent stress during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests parents can play a key role in helping their children develop resilience in the face of community-wide threats or public health crises."
- Sophie Hurewitz, Child Policy Research Certificate Student '22