News Feature

Dodge Testifies about Family Connects' Positive Outcomes

Kenneth Dodge, Pritzker Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, testified before the personnel subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee about the results of the Family Connects program and the potential benefits of that nurse home visiting program for military communities across the nation. You can read his remarks here and view his comments on C-Span by clicking the link below.

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New Center Policy Brief on COVID-19’s Impact on Working Families

March 31, 2020

In a new policy brief from the Center for Child and Family Policy, Anna Gassman-Pines and co-author Elizabeth Ananat provide a snapshot of the impact COVID-19 is having on working families. As part of an ongoing study of service workers in a large U.S. city, the researchers surveyed respondents about the effect of the crisis the week after schools and nonessential businesses were closed. Results of the survey reveal the COVID-19 crisis has already led to drastic reductions in work hours, income and family well-being.

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Challenges in Getting ‘Families First’ Funds to Those Who Need It Most

Lisa Gennetian March 27, 2020

Lisa A. Gennetian was featured on The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen on WNHN radio, talking about the challenges facing rapid, equitable distribution of cash payments to all Americans, as a means of combating the economic damage that COVID-19 is inflicting on the economy. Writing a check won’t work for some people who may not have checking accounts.  Tax rebates won’t work for people who don’t earn enough income to owe any taxes.  Electronic debit cards will work for many people but how will the government reach everyone, including folks who are living on the margins of society?

Click here to listen »

‘Families First’ Law Will Expand Food and Nutrition Programs

Lisa Gennetian March 20, 2020

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law by President Trump on Wednesday after being passed by Congress. The new law is one of several federal measures intended to provide relief to communities hurt by the virus. Duke professors Lisa A. Gennetian, Pritzker Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies, and Nathan Boucher, a research health scientist, explain some key features of the law and what those mean for Americans. Gennetian said the new law includes an infusion of emergency funds and expands eligibility in three of America’s key food and nutrition programs: SNAP, WIC and school meal programs.

Duke Today »

Challenges of Equitable Rapid Response Cash Payments

Lisa Gennetian March 20, 2020

Consensus is building around sending cash payments to every American to help with the coronavirus pandemic. But does the United States have the infrastructure to disburse funds to every citizen? Professor Lisa A. Gennetian has been researching cash payments to low-income families. She says those who need help the most are often the hardest to reach.

Read her column for Econofact »

Paid Sick Leave Will Benefit Families

Anna Gassman-Pines. Duke University March 19, 2020

Congress passed a new law expanding paid sick leave and family leave for employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The bill requires that companies give full-time employees 80 hours of paid sick leave and also provide part-time employees with some paid leave. It applies to anyone who has coronavirus, is in quarantine or caring for someone in quarantine or is caring for a child under 18 whose school is closed as a result of the outbreak. “That’s going to help a lot of families. That’s the bottom line,” said Anna Gassman-Pines, an associate professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “The general evidence on paid family leave is that it provides a lot of health benefits, especially for women and families.”

McClatchy News »

Low-Income Hispanic Parents Spent Less Time with Children Over Past Decade

Lisa Gennetian February 27, 2020

New research from Lisa A. Gennetian and co-author Christopher Rodrigues looks at the ways in which racial and ethnic identity shapes parental time use within income groups in the U.S. over the prior decade. According to the findings, low-income Hispanic fathers spent approximately 10 minutes less with their children for every hour spent in paid work, a substantively starker trade-off than that made by low-income white and black fathers or by mothers irrespective of income or racial/ethnic identity. The amount and quality of time parents spend with children is favorably associated with their development, including future economic and social success. This study provides a lens on how the impact of policies targeted to low-income families and that might increase demands on parents’ time could vary by racial/ethnic group.

Read more: Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy »

Girls to the front: How redshirting and test-score gaps are affected by a change in the school-entry cut date

Philip Cook, Duke University February 12, 2020

Following the 2009 change in North Carolina state law to move the school-entry cutoff date to August 31 (up from October 16), September-born children’s test scores increased substantially in both third and fourth grades. A new study from Philip J. Cook and Songman Kang (of Hanyang University) looks at the impact of the reform on children’s academic performance and whether it benefits some groups of children more than others. The unexpected answer, based on standardized test scores and other metrics, is Yes –  that girls gained relative to boys, Black students relative to White students, and low-income students relative to higher-income.  The authors note the shifts are in part due to the near elimination of redshirting for children born in September, which had been much more prevalent for White boys relative to other groups, and in part by the surprising fact that girls gain more than boys by starting school a year older.



How Local Court Actors’ Decisions Affect Social Service Caseloads

February 6, 2020

Changing parental incarceration rates would change child protective services (CPS) caseloads substantially, according to findings in a new study from Frank Sloan and CCFP’s Beth Gifford, Kelly Evans and Lindsey Kozecke.

Using data from the entire state of North Carolina, the researchers examined how parental criminal case processing affects children’s CPS involvement.

Among the key findings, researchers conclude that because criminal justice and CPS systems work with many of the same families, and because social service agencies may be engaged with families prior to criminal justice involvement,  data and services sharing should be considered a high priority. Such efforts may have cost saving opportunities for both agencies and lead to better outcomes for children and families.

Read more: Child Abuse & Neglect »

Child Poverty Scholar Joins Sanford School and Center for Child and Family Policy

February 4, 2020

By Sarah Brantley

This spring, Lisa Gennetian joins the Sanford School of Public Policy as the Pritzker Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies and a faculty affiliate of the Center for Child and Family Policy, a position she says perfectly represents her mission of interdisciplinary thinking and work anchored on the lives of children. She comes to Duke from New York University.

For 20 years, Gennetian has devoted her career to understanding the lives of families and children in poverty and the policies intended to support them. As an applied behavioral economist, she uses the science of psychology to understand factors that influence parents’ economic behavior and access to income, as well as shape the quality of children’s home environments. She applies these insights to design strategies for interventions that promote children’s well-being.

Gennetian attributes the genesis of her career as a child poverty researcher to a stroke of good timing and a healthy dose of luck during her first job after earning her PhD in economics from Cornell University.

Her entry to MDRC, a social policy research organization, was fortuitously timed with dramatic shifts in America’s thinking about social welfare programs in the late 1990s.

While at MDRC, Gennetian was a lead investigator of the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), an innovative welfare reform initiative that aimed to encourage work, reduce dependence on public assistance and reduce poverty. It was also one of the first to test something called an earned income disregard so that working always paid more than staying on public assistance.

The study produced a cluster of surprising findings that quickly received county, state and federal policy attention: The income boosts experienced by MFIP families contributed to improvements not only in economic well-being but also in mothers’ mental health, parenting and children’s cognitive and behavioral development.

“The findings from MFIP floored a lot of people. No one expected to see the positive impacts on children,” says Gennetian. “What we found was pathbreaking in the scientific literature, and we came closer to being able to say that poverty reduction contributes to children’s well-being.”

The early findings from the MFIP trials directly shaped the program as it exists today in the state of Minnesota.

The study was also among a few that led Gennetian and a team of colleagues to launch the Baby’s First Years study, recruiting 1,000 mothers and their newborns from four different U.S. metropolitan areas in 2018. The ongoing randomized control study, which Gennetian brings with her to Duke, is the first in the United States to assess to assess the causal impacts of poverty reduction on infant and toddler development. The nearly $20 million effort, funded by the National Institutes of Health, foundations and a $500,000 grant from New York City, involves giving monthly installments of unconditional cash to low-income mothers over the first three years of their child’s life to test whether money itself improves family life and child development.

“Beyond its contributions to basic social and neuro-science research, Baby’s First Years will provide evidence that will help inform policy debates about how income boosts through existing anti-poverty initiatives like the earned income tax credit and how cuts to social benefits impact children in the most formative years of their development,” says Gennetian of the study.

Gennetian also brings to Duke the beELL Initiative (short for Behavioral Economics Early Language and Learning), which she launched in 2015 to harness insights from behavioral economics to support parenting and early childhood interventions. For example, in New York City, these insights were applied to streamline public health initiatives focused on early literacy, such as the Talk to Your Baby program with newborn home visiting services.

The research from beELL more generally aims to deepen the field’s understanding of parent and caregiver decisions and engagement with early interventions, as well as test how tools from behavioral economics can enhance the impact of such interventions and support parenting.

Gennetian was first introduced to the field of behavioral economics by prominent behavioral scientists Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir whose work flips the long-held thinking that people are poor because they make bad decisions.

“Their work really changed the landscape of poverty research in the U.S.,” says Gennetian. “It is radical to think about how poverty itself can be depleting and can affect your good intentions to get out of poverty.”

Now, as a professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Gennetian’s top priorities include training and mentoring young scholars and sparking their passion for economics and poverty research, of course all with an interdisciplinary twist.

“I am incredibly grateful to the senior scholars who mentored me, and one motivation for me to be in a policy school is to give back to students what others gave to me.”

Sanford School Dean Judith Kelley said Gennetian’s appointment adds to the strengths of the school and affiliated Center for Child and Family Policy.

“Lisa is a superb hire for Sanford. She has a long track record of asking cutting-edge policy-relevant questions. She is truly motivated by how her work can help children and families and she will strengthen our school’s commitment to excellence and service, among our key values,” Kelley said.

Gennetian’s professorship is generously supported by the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, a champion of quality early learning for almost two decades.

“As a champion of quality early childhood development, we are proud to support research to improve developmental outcomes for children and our society. Lisa Gennetian’s role as the Pritzker Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy will contribute to vital scholarship intended to improve developmental outcomes,” said Janet Froetscher, president of the foundation.

This semester, Gennetian is teaching Public Policy 303, microeconomics. She will incorporate lessons from many of Robert Frank’s books, including The Economic Naturalist and The Winner Take All Society, co-authored by Sanford Professor Emeritus Philip J. Cook.

“It’s exciting to come full circle,” she says. “Microeconomic concepts can be very abstract, yet they filter into many of our daily decisions and choices and shape how policymakers think. I’m hoping to bring in both of these into the classroom, daily life and policy spotlights. It’s going to be hard but also fun!”

The first in her family to attend college, Gennetian holds a PhD in economics from Cornell University and a BA from Wellesley College. She is an affiliated professor with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), and previously held an appointment as a research professor in the Institute of Human Development and Social Change at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.