Recent News Releases

Home Visiting Program Linked to Child Maltreatment Reductions through Age 5

July 7, 2021

DURHAM, N.C. —  Family Connects, a nurse home visiting program for newborns and their families, is linked to substantial reductions in child maltreatment investigations in children’s first five years, according to new research from Duke University.

Families who were offered Family Connects experienced 39% fewer investigations for suspected child abuse and neglect than other families in the same community. These families also had 33% less emergency medical care use than the control group in their children’s first 5 years of life.

“We’re now able to demonstrate that Family Connects home visits shortly after birth have positive impacts through the transition to school,” says Ben Goodman, research scientist at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy and research director for Family Connects International. “It’s exciting to see that early interventions can really make a difference for entire communities.”

The results appear July 7 in JAMA Network Open.

The findings are based on a randomized clinical trial first conducted in 2009 and 2010, and on analysis of hospital and Child Protective Services records in ensuing years.

Between July 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010, parents of all 4,777 babies born in Durham County, North Carolina during that time period were randomly assigned to receive the Family Connects program or treatment as usual. The research team then randomly selected a subgroup of 549 families from the full population for a long-term study, which included review of hospital and Child Protective Services records.

The reduction in child maltreatment investigations was apparent across all subgroups tested, regardless of infant medical risk, infant gender, health insurance status or whether the child had one or two parents in the home. These findings support the value of offering the program universally, to all members of a community.

To calculate total child emergency medical care use, the researchers reviewed hospital records of the newborns from discharge from the hospital through age five. They tallied the number of emergency department visits, plus the number of overnight stays in hospital. The total number of emergency visits and hospital stays was significantly less for those children whose families participated in the Family Connects program versus the control group.

Family Connects provides home visits from a trained, registered nurse shortly after the birth of a child. The nurse conducts infant and postpartum health checks and refers new parents to resources within their community that meet their individual needs and preferences. These may include substance abuse treatment, maternal depression counseling, general parenting support, housing assistance or childcare resources.

The research-based public health program aims to improve health at a population level, reaching as many families as possible in communities where it is available. The Family Connects program is unusual in emphasizing community-wide impact and short-term duration, with a relatively low cost of about $500-700 per community birth.

Managed by Duke University’s Family Connects International, the model originated as a partnership between the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke and the nonprofit Center for Child & Family Health in Durham, N.C. Family Connects International has since grown and is in various stages of planning and implementation in 17 states. The model has been evaluated through two randomized clinical trials. As the program continues to expand, research and evaluation will continue.

Funding for this study was provided by The Duke Endowment, the Pew Center on the States and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (grant R01HD069981).

CITATION: “Effect of a universal postpartum nurse home visiting program on child maltreatment and emergency medical care at 5 years of age,” W.B. Goodman, K A. Dodge, Y Bai, R.A. Murphy and K. O’Donnell. JAMA Network Open 2021.



Parent-Teachers and Teacher-Learners: Co-Constructing Curriculum for Young Children

May 3, 2021

By Sophie Hurewitz, Child Policy Research certificate student ’22

Dr. Christine McWayne, professor at Tufts University, was the featured speaker for the Early Childhood Initiative Seminar on April 20, 2021. McWayne, an applied developmental scientist and community-based early childhood educational researcher, focuses on fostering a better understanding of the early social and learning successes of young children growing up in urban poverty. She believes that the use of culturally grounded information can help bridge the divides that often exist between primary helpers, such as parents and teachers, in young children’s lives.

McWayne began her lecture, “Bridging the Divides and Making Visible the Invisible: Connecting Parents and Teachers through Cultural Inclusion,” by discussing how research framed around the “achievement gap” implicitly describes individual children, their families, and their teachers as being the source of the problem. She argued for a focus on inclusion, belonging, and justice. Through this lens, all children are respected as individuals with unique strengths, paradigms for intervention are re-examined, collaborations have positive goals, and there is a sense of agency in creating positive change, McWayne explained.

She stated how the dominant narratives in the field link achievement and opportunity to race and ethnicity, income, and home language. This research and increasing public awareness has led to “a flood of mandates aimed at closing these gaps.” In response to these mandates, many researchers focus on identifying the protective factors against early risks, such as family engagement and strong family-school connections. “There’s a growing sense of urgency around getting families engaged in children’s early education as early as possible,” she said.

What if we flip the script?
McWayne urged viewers to “start with a different set of assumptions.” The Readiness through Integrative Science and Engineering (RISE) project aims to do just that. RISE aims to strengthen connections between home and school settings in order to co-create culturally inclusive preschool classrooms that foster positive approaches to learning through hands-on exploration. The focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in children’s everyday lives, support for teacher practice, and the co-constructed preschool curriculum all aim to transform the traditional weakness-based narrative.

McWayne provided viewers with some background on the RISE project, which includes four main values: 1) to engage multiple perspectives and experiential knowledge, 2) to build shared understandings through shared learning experiences, 3) to co-construct meaningful STEM inquiry-based learning experiences for all children, and 4) to embrace a “living” curriculum.

She highlighted the reality that, for many low-income minority families, socio-cultural and language differences between families and teachers create very significant gaps between the home and school settings. These gaps result in underrepresented families labeled as lacking knowledge, skills, social connections, and even values regarding the importance of early childhood education.

“In reality, often educators don’t have access to the potentially powerful information about home-based practices and routines,” she said. It is for this reason that RISE frames family-school connections as “emphasizing information flowing from the home to the school.” Not only will this mindset transform how teachers and school administrators think of families, but it is also instrumental in creating a welcoming, inclusive school environment.

Creating a truly inclusive school environment requires more nuanced ways of looking at family engagement. RISE encourages programs to validate both visible and invisible forms of family engagement by equally valuing school-based, home-based, and community-based engagement opportunities. Additionally, RISE encourages programs to incorporate indirect ways to engage families’ lived experiences. These two goals requires three fundamental themes, according to McWayne: thinking of parents as equal partners, realizing that learning builds on familiar and existing experiential knowledge, and recognizing that culture is embedded in all that we do.

In order to prioritize this innovative home-to-school approach for teaching and learning, teachers were instructed on how to incorporate families’ everyday knowledge that can be used to make curricula more meaningful for their children. For example, RISE researchers met with parents to determine everyday routes that children took by bus, train, or by foot. Researchers then took photographs of opportunities for STEM learning that were along the paths provided by the parents. Upon sharing this information, teachers were excited to incorporate STEM learning in the children’s local surroundings via neighborhood walks, which were already part of the Head Start program. Additionally, the children began incorporating these neighborhood features in their block and ramp play. McWayne reported how children at one program located in a downtown area began to build tall structures that resembled the buildings in their community. Children at another Head Start program began building longer structures such as the bridges and tunnels that they encountered in their daily lives. Children in these programs were utilizing STEM concepts about stability and design, “using information from their immediate environment” that “might never have come to light without that joint activity with parents.”

Source: McWayne’s presentation: “Bridging the Divides and Making Visible the Invisible: Connecting Parents and Teachers through Cultural Inclusion”

Through RISE-sponsored joint activities, “teachers and parents began to see each other as human beings, not as defined solely by their role in the Head Start program.” Teachers began to engage with the perspectives of the parents and encouraged parents to feel empowered as collaborators with regard to their child’s education.

The many successes of RISE implementation extend to the parents’ own perceptions of the family engagement initiatives. RISE parents reported perceiving significantly fewer cultural and relational barriers, reported encountering fewer program barriers, and reported similar resource barriers compared to non-RISE parents. McWayne highlighted for viewers how the measure of resource barriers was to be expected, given that all parents and children were eligible for the federal Head Start program.

The RISE program proved to be a brilliant example of the benefits of parent-teacher collaboration , enabling teachers “to capture the experiences of more children in their classroom[s],” leading to a more inclusive learning experience, according to McWayne.

McWayne concluded by reminding viewers of the outdated, normative “idea that parents and teachers operate in a hierarchy.” “The beauty of the home-to-school approach,” she added, “is that the teacher is in a learning position to learn about children’s everyday lives.”

Sophie Hurewitz is a rising senior at Duke majoring in neuroscience with a minor in global health and a certificate in Child Policy Research.

Why Innovation is Key for Addressing Child Poverty in the post-COVID World

April 30, 2021

by Cameron Love, MPP’22

“Addressing Child Poverty during the Pandemic” featured Dr. Lisa Gennetian, Pritzker Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies at the Sanford School of Public Policy, and David Reese, president and CEO of Durham Children’s Initiative.

During the enlightening and frank conversation, the pair gave their perspectives on the challenges and successes the child poverty space has witnessed over the past year and what the future may hold.

The discussion was moderated by Dr. Leslie Babinski, director of the Center for Child and Family Policy and the School Research Partnership, which hosted the event.

Reese began by touching on a silver lining of the pandemic. He noted it has been “amazing” to see the Durham community rally around food access and helping families. However, he was quick to point out that the pandemic has been “devastating when we start thinking about the effects on kids and families.”

“It’s almost as if someone pulled the floor from underneath us,” said Reese.

And children have noticed, too. Reese said kids are quick to recognize when their family starts struggling, despite efforts to shield them from harsh realities.

“The kids we work with were fully aware of the changes and the shifts,” said Reese.

Gennetian’s opening comments connected what was happening in Durham with the national picture.

“The microcosm of what DCI is experiencing here in Durham is happening across the country,” said Gennetian.

She then provided pre-pandemic context, noting the optimism in the child poverty academic space prior to COVID-19. Poverty rates had been sliding for decades, with rates at historic lows. The pandemic has clearly reversed much of that progress, as child poverty rates surged during COVID-19.

Gennetian highlighted several of her key takeaways from the pandemic, including why the United States was so vulnerable to a public health crisis.

The social safety net in the U.S. hinges on work. When a public health emergency like the pandemic prevents millions from going to work, the social safety net will unravel and fail to protect children, Gennetian said. The safety net is not designed to intervene without a work component. Thus, providing emergency food supplies and other services needed due to the pandemic has been challenging.

DCI helped meet this need in the Durham community. First, the organization made the effort to collect survey data from the community, completing two surveys at the beginning of the pandemic. The main purpose? To directly ask the community members what they needed.

The first survey was conducted at the end of March, with fairly encouraging results. The survey that followed four weeks later was much less encouraging. Seven in nine respondents to the second survey needed emergency financial assistance. Nine in ten needed emergency food support.

DCI mobilized in response by bringing in food rescue organizations, collaborating with community and philanthropic partners on distribution, which included pop-up food sites for families. It wasn’t enough, though, to offer food. Reese indicated that families benefited even more from receiving store gift cards.

“Gift cards allow families to buy what wasn’t given to you at distribution site,” said Reese, like toiletries, meat, or other supplies families needed to make it through a week. It also gave more control and a sense of normalcy to families.

Gennetian was a fan of DCI’s approach. She discussed the Census Bureau’s efforts to collect quick data from Americans during the pandemic. While she was grateful for the speedy release of the data, she wishes DCI’s question had been included.

“Wouldn’t it have been amazing if (the Census Bureau) included that question — ‘What do you need?’ ” said Gennetian.

She moved on to a hot policy topic: The American Rescue Plan (ARP). The recent legislation includes support for housing, food, school re-openings, and equitable vaccine distribution. The part she may be most excited for is tied to her own work studying direct payment to families—the expansion of the child tax credit.

The expanded child tax credit gives up to $3,600 for each child under the age of six in a family and up to $3,000 for each child age 6-17. These amounts are tied to research that claims the payments will make a sizable difference for low-income families and children.

While Reese was also excited about the ARP, he pointed out that not every family in need will receive support from it.

“For some people this is a lifeline, this is a game changer,” said Reese. “Other families, we have to acknowledge, they didn’t receive the first stimulus [payment].”

“If you didn’t file taxes you are out of luck,” Reese said.

Gennetian also noted some concerns with the ARP. The main one was about the rollout of the program, noting that the IRS doesn’t have much experience in making month-to-month payments. She also emphasized that the ARP won’t make up for vast racial inequities in the U.S.

“We are reckoning with it, but are we doing something about it?” asked Gennetian. “Can we push our system to address these inequities? I worry about the same children being left behind even under this very generous plan.”

Reese said those children should be front and center in developing and executing solutions in a post-COVID-19 world.

David Reese said his organization is worried that, as families face more challenges, adolescents will feel the pull to drop out of school and enter the workforce. Instead of completely trying to push these kids toward not working, Reese said the organization and those in Durham’s philanthropic community are developing policy innovations to allow both work and school.

“We can’t have one or the other be the decision they make,” said Reese. “We want fewer and fewer to make that decision or choice.”

Gennetian is a fan of this approach, noting the high returns research finds in advancing education.

“These are all the marching steps to economic security… I think that’s exactly the right way to protect our young people, who are the future of our country,” said Gennetian.

It seems paramount, based on the insights of Gennetian and Reese, that the goal of a post-COVID world not be a return to normal. Instead, the United States and the Durham community must continue work to innovate in the child poverty space. Doing this with a racially equitable lens is key, as is centering the families and children who will be impacted by policies in their development and implementation.

Evaluating the Scale Up of the Building Blocks Preschool Mathematics Curriculum

April 29, 2021

By Emily Raich, Child Policy Certificate student ‘22

On April 13, 2021, the Center for Child and Family Policy hosted Tyler Watts, assistant professor of developmental psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, as part of its Early Childhood Initiative Lecture Series. Watts studies educational policies designed to promote the cognitive and socio-emotional development of children from underserved communities. His talk, “Exploring Heterogeneity across Multiple Cluster Randomized Trials in Early Childhood: Evidence on intervention implementation and fadeout,” focused on his current research evaluating the Building Blocks preschool mathematics curriculum.

Developed by Doug Clements and Julie Sarama, Building Blocks takes an evidence-based learning trajectories approach to train teachers to mathematize children’s everyday experiences in the preschool classroom rather than focus on lengthy instructional time in mathematics. Building Blocks has been empirically tested by a number of scale-up studies and has been implemented in early childhood education (ECE) centers across the country.

Randomized control trials (RCTs) evaluating the efficacy of Building Blocks yield mixed results regarding the fadeout and persistence of the intervention impacts from pre-k to kindergarten. Watts’ research seeks to understand the heterogeneity across these RCTs by using a unique methodology to merge the findings from multiple studies. He explained the overarching goal of merging these results is to reveal patterns that can account for the heterogeneous outcomes across sites, thereby informing the strategies and conditions under which to most effectively scale empirically-evaluated curricula. To examine this, Watts used a methodological approach based on the work of Weiss et al. (2017) to synthesize across multiple studies and assess impact heterogeneity in ECE.

Watts is currently working with data from four scale-up RCT studies across five cities. These studies include the TRIAD study in Boston and Buffalo (2006-2007), a multi-site RCT in Nashville (2007-2008), a study in San Diego (2010-2011), and the Making Pre-K Count study in New York City (2014-2015). His study design uses a blocking method, meaning that schools with similar characteristics were grouped together in blocks within which they were randomly assigned to the treatment or control group. This method generated 47 blocks that included 4,164 children in 390 classes across 175 schools. The key component of this study design is the random assignment that occurs between the blocks and schools. School-level factors and classroom conditions—such as the time spent on math, the quality of instruction, demographics, etc.—vary across sites, and the blocking method can reveal any site characteristics that may explain the heterogeneous fadeout patterns in Building Blocks outcomes observed between pre-k and kindergarten.

The results of this study are still in their preliminary stages and models of fadeout across sites are still being investigated. These results have the potential to enhance understanding about which conditions are favorable for implementing preschool curricula. Watts’ work has important implications for efforts to successfully scale empirically-evaluated curricula and is central to ongoing discussions regarding the fadeout and persistence of early childhood intervention impacts within the field of ECE curricula evaluation.

“No More Band-Aids”: A Call for Interdisciplinary Collaboration to Support Minority Children and Families During and After COVID-19

April 1, 2021

By Sophie Hurewitz, Duke undergraduate student ’22

The 2021 Sulzberger Distinguished Lecture Series featured Dr. Cynthia Garcia Coll who has devoted the past 30 years of her career studying child development. An adjunct professor in the Pediatrics Department at the University of Puerto Rico Medical School and Professor Emerita at Brown University, Dr. Garcia Coll was introduced by The Center for Child and Family Policy’s own Dr. Lisa Gennetian as having expanded the field beyond the “white, Western-centric, sometimes patriarchal perspective.”

Dr. Garcia Coll began her presentation by sharing the distressing reality that the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic downfall has had dramatically higher impacts on Black communities, Indigenous communities, and people of color (BIPOC) than on non-BIPOC populations. Emphasizing that existing racism and inequality are large factors contributing to the pandemic’s impact on BIPOC populations, Dr. Garcia Coll highlighted the notable disparities in positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, unemployment and economic uncertainty, food and housing insecurity, disruptions in childcare and education, failure to receive Cares Act stimulus checks, and racial or ethnic discrimination.

Dr. Garcia Coll further stated that COVID-19-related unemployment and economic uncertainty are not unique to the United States. According to 2020 data from the UN Development Programme, as a result of the pandemic the global per capita income is expected to fall around 4 percent, pushing between 40 to 60 million people into extreme poverty. COVID-19-related food insecurity is also a global problem: approximately 205 million individuals will face crisis levels of hunger as a result of the pandemic, according to the World Food Programme. “One of the issues at the world level is that we’re going backwards in many of the statistics if we don’t do something seriously, consistently, and systematically,” Dr. Garcia Coll added.

These significant and troubling racial and ethnic disparities extend far beyond economic and food instability into much more nuanced aspects of life in a pandemic. For example, data from the 2017-2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey reveals that only about 20 percent of Black or African American individuals and about 15 percent  of Hispanic or Latinx individuals are able to telework. Dr. Garcia Coll reminded viewers that women of color also face a “double inequality.” “Women are on the front lines,” she explained, citing evidence that women and women of color are overrepresented in frontline worker jobs.

The degree of pandemic-related childcare and education disruptions that families have faced over the past year are directly correlated to racial and ethnic disparities in the American workforce. Dr. Garcia Coll highlighted the Society for Research in Child Development’s work revealing how the closing of childcare centers and schools resulted in increased stress for BIPOC parents and caregivers, lower quality education for BIPOC children as a result of disparities in access to computers and Internet at home, a loss of food stability as a result of decreased school-based food services, regression in special education goals, and an overall decrease in academic and peer socialization for BIPOC children.

Dr. Garcia Coll urged attendees to consider why the impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC families and children is so much worse than for others. “Hurricane Katrina and Maria,” she explained, “were two episodes that really showed how inequality and racism affects a disaster… a natural disaster or a man-made disaster.” Dr. Garcia Coll emphasized the importance of theoretical frameworks in understanding the intersection of global economic and social disparities for people of color. Her Integrative Model, first developed in 1996, “was the first time that the words racism, prejudice, discrimination, and oppression were used to talk about children’s development.”

An Integrative Model of Child Development

“Every society has social stratification,” Dr. Garcia Coll acknowledged, “and in the United States, it’s been basically race, social class, ethnicity, and gender.” The Integrative Model illustrates how resources flow, or don’t flow, to populations based on social processes and classifications. These structural and societal mechanisms “become a major force in the development of families and children.” It is for this reason that Dr. Garcia Coll underscored the importance of “systems and elements that help ‘set the odds’” for BIPOC families and children. She urged audience members to “start way earlier than [when] we intervene right now.”

So what now? How do we support BIPOC families and children in overcoming these increasing disparities? Dr. Garcia Coll challenged participants to consider the following: “We need to think about, as a world, are we going to go back [in history]… are we going to allow these disasters to push us back just because we are not willing to work on the root causes?”

In her work, Dr. Garcia Coll has identified numerous areas in which the United States can better support BIPOC families and children, including better acknowledging and addressing racism and the national scope of inequality, dealing with the roots of the problems instead of the symptoms, and working systematically and preventatively to support BIPOC communities.

“If we want to prevent what has happened with the pandemic… we need to have people working at the individual, working at the community, working at the policy, but coordinated,” Dr. Garcia Coll advised, “we need to be working in partnership with communities.” To better integrate American systems of intervention, Dr. Garcia Coll called for the development of cross-sector initiatives to more effectively align strategies to address barriers in data sharing, financing, and other challenges to collaboration. She also emphasized the importance of early intervention and the detection of early-life adversity, cultural competency, the improvement of trauma-informed referral and intervention systems, increased access to parent and caregiver support programs and policies, and the development of initiatives to provide comprehensive wraparound services.

“No more Band-Aids,” urged Dr. Garcia Coll. Instead, we must employ “evidence-based, integrated, systemic, intergenerational, and interdisciplinary” approaches to support BIPOC families and children.

Additional Resources and Events: 

Society for Research in Child Development, Child Development in a Diverse Majority Society Lecture Series: Constructing the ‘Other’

Society for Research in Child Development Child Evidence Briefs:

Sophie Hurewitz is a junior at Duke majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Global Health and a certificate in Child Policy Research. She plans to become a pediatrician to combine her interests in health and education policy with clinical medicine and child and adolescent development.

New Research: Parental Stress Management and Youth Outcomes

March 11, 2021

A new study co-authored by Ann Skinner looks at how parents’ management of stress together predicts how warm and affectionate they are to their adolescent children, and later how their level of warmth impacts aggression in those adolescents. The study, recently published in the Journal of Family Issues, is a departure from most of the existing literature on parental conflict as it focuses on the impact of parental stress and behavior on adolescents versus young children. Data for the study were collected over a three-year period in China, Kenya, Sweden, and Thailand. 

Results of the study show that better parental coping experienced by children at age 13 predicted higher levels of parental warmth towards their children a year later at the age of 14. For mothers who participated in the study, higher levels of maternal warmth were in turn related to less aggression in children at age 15, and higher levels of parental coping at age 13 were related to less aggressive behavior at age 15 indirectly through maternal warmth. One explanation for this finding is that when parents do not cope with stressors together as a couple, or do not feel that they are managing stress jointly, youth feel less secure within the family.  This insecurity is then linked with adjustment problems, particularly with aggression.

Journal of Family Issues »

Restoring the “American Dream” for All Children

March 4, 2021

By Sonia He, Duke undergraduate student ’22

“The United States is no longer a place where children can get ahead of their parents.”

The “American Dream,” coined in 1931 by writer James Truslow Adams, inspires children from all walks of life. To some, this signifies upward mobility—the idea that through hard work, one can go on to earn more money than one’s parents. However, America has failed to live up to these aspirations for many children—over the past 50 years, children’s chances of earning more than their parents have declined from 90 percent to 50 percent. Upon closer look, a map of upward mobility trends across the U.S. shows that this dream also depends heavily on where one grew up—low-income children from the Midwest experience significantly greater upward mobility than those from the Southeast.

Thus, the question is: How can we increase economic opportunity for children from neighborhoods with low upward mobility? The Duke Center for Child and Family Policy in collaboration with the Duke University Population Research Institute hosted Dr. Raj Chetty, William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University, to share research findings from his work with colleagues at Opportunity Insights, using big data to address this issue. The February 24 event was part of the Sulzberger Distinguished Lecture Series, made possible through an endowment from the Arthur Sulzberger Family.

First, Dr. Chetty analyzed four characteristics that seem to drive the variation across areas in the U.S.: 1) poverty rates, 2) stability of the family structure in the community, 3) social capital, and 4) school quality. Essentially, the immediate environment in which a child lives until the age of 23 significantly affects their prospects for upward job mobility.

What about an area’s racial composition? The same map filtered by race shows that Black men earn significantly less than White men in every area across the U.S. Dr. Chetty summarizes,

It’s essentially like there are two different countries in terms of economic opportunity for Black men versus White men… for Black Americans, [achieving the American Dream is] more like being on a treadmill where even after you climb up in one generation, there are tremendous structural forces that push you back down and make you have to make the climb again.

However, despite the inter-race differences, there are still substantial variations within the same race and within the same city.

Take Durham, North Carolina, for example. In Durham’s Central Park neighborhood on the east side of the city, the average income for Black men from low-income families is just $6,900. Just a few miles to the west in Duke Forest, the average income increases to $22,000. The problem is “hyper-local,” as Dr. Chetty likes to call it. And because the problem is local, the solution must also be local.

Dr. Chetty suggested ways in which policymakers can use this data to increase economic opportunity in their communities, including at higher-education institutions. Colleges have the power to propel their low-income students to the top of the income distribution. Duke University ranks among the top in increasing student’s prospects of upward mobility; approximately half of its students who come from the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution end up reaching the top 20 percent. However, Duke enrolls a relatively low number of low-income students. Thus, to increase its contributions to increasing upward mobility, Duke must prioritize increasing access to qualified low-income students by admitting greater numbers of high-achieving, low-income students as well as transfer students from community colleges, according to Chetty.

Dr. Chetty concluded his talk by describing the disparate impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on economic opportunity. But while the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively disrupted our lives in many ways, Dr. Chetty inspired attendees to reflect on changes we can make to come out stronger and restore the American Dream for all children.

“Coming out of the Great Depression, the fundamental changes in U.S. social programs and infrastructure… led to decades of inclusive growth in the United States and some of the highest rates of economic opportunity, and I think, informed by modern data and modern science, there’s an opportunity to do that again in the United States.”

To look at some of the data and tools Dr. Chetty used in his talk, check out:

ABC Science Collaborative Helps Bridge Data Gap to Ensure Safe Reopening of N.C. Schools

February 10, 2021

By Ainsley Buck, Child Policy Research Certificate student ’22

The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of collective action in problem solving. In most of our daily lives, we experience this most prominently with mask-wearing and social distancing. Collaboration is also critical on larger scales, such as in legislation and school re-openings.

The ABC Science Collaborative, a consortium of public health scientists and physicians from Duke University and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, has fully embraced this concept in its work to safely re-open K-12 schools across North Carolina. The collaborative partners with schools and helps them make data-driven decisions to keep their faculty, staff, students and community as safe as possible. The collaborative’s ultimate goal is a successful return to in-person learning.

On February 4, 2021, the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy hosted a webinar with the co-chairs of the ABC Science Collaborative, Dr. Kanecia Zimmerman and Dr. Danny Benjamin, as well as panelists from the education sector. The session began by describing the initiative’s three-pronged approach: (1) informing evidence-based decision making; (2) delivering educational resources; and (3) advancing public health. As part of its program, the ABC Science Collaborative also developed 12 principles for reopening, with an emphasis on transparency and tracking. Notably, they have developed a mobile app and platform that allows schools to track symptoms and cases.

The initiative was established in response to COVID-19’s impact on education for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools and has now been implemented across 11 North Carolina school districts. While the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided metric guidance for school re-opening, they did not provide specific criteria on when to transition from a virtual to hybrid or fully in-person model: the ABC Science Collaborative filled that gap. Superintendent of Wake County Public Schools Cathy Moore, emphasized the usefulness of understanding how to incorporate the data into schools’ evolving decisions.

Dr. Zimmerman noted that health professionals’ and scientists’ experience on the ground gives them a valuable perspective, introducing questions to legislators such as, “Can they actually implement that as a school?” Additionally, while the goal of school closures is to mitigate spread, the data reveals that school-acquired transmission is far less common than community-acquired transmission. Stanley Litow, professor at the Sanford School and member of the New York City Education Sector Advisory Council, echoed this sentiment, noting that schools are less vulnerable to spread than other institutions. Importantly, this information must be communicated to parents, students, and school faculty, while validating and incorporating their concerns into re-opening protocols.

Deputy Superintendent of Durham Public Schools (DPS), Nakia Hardy, notes that robust public involvement is crucial to achieve this balance: “This truly is a multi-pronged approach. When you sit in the Triangle, there are so many resources, and we really believe in a partnership.” Hardy elaborated that the collaboration allowed her to focus on DPS-specific initiatives, such as learning centers. These locations ensure access to a safe and productive learning environment.

When asked about future challenges in the 2021-2022 school year, Orange County Commissioner Dr. Amy Fowler, a pediatrician and previous Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board member, brought attention to the emotional strain of social isolation, noting that she has is seeing rising numbers of anxiety and depression cases among students in her practice. Additionally, Fowler discussed how students without access to the necessary tools would experience the most learning loss. While COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated inequity, panelists expressed hope that the additional attention on these inequities will shift energy into finding solutions. Moore says, “If there ever was an opportunity to re-vision, reshape, reprioritize what our needs are and how we creatively… approach education for students, it is now.”

The ABC Science Collaborative and our panelists reiterated that working together is key to achieving the safest return to normalcy. Nakia Hardy reminded us all that, “Although we are separated, we are here with you.”

The “Using Data to Advise K-12 Public School Systems during the Pandemic” webinar was sponsored by the School Research Partnership, an initiative of the Center for Child and Family Policy and the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

Heightened Immigration Enforcement Has Troubling Impact on Babies

February 3, 2021

DURHAM, N.C. — Harsher immigration law enforcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement leads to decreased use of prenatal care for immigrant mothers and declines in birth weight, according to new Duke University research.

In the study, published in PLoS ONE, researchers examine the effects of the federal 287(g) immigration program after it was introduced in North Carolina in 2006. Under 287(g) programs, which are still in effect, local law officers are deputized to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, with authority to question individuals about immigration status, detain them, and if necessary, begin deportation proceedings.

According to the study findings, the 2006 policy change reduced birth weight by an average of 58.54 grams. It also resulted in more births of babies who were small for their gestational age. Those births rose by 2.29 percentage points.

In addition, immigrant parents used less prenatal care, meaning they either did not see a health care provider in the first trimester or missed at least half of their recommended prenatal visits.

“There are economic costs to adverse birth outcomes, both for children involved and to society,” said Marcos Rangel, co-author of the study and professor of public policy at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “The recent uptick in ICE activities under the Trump administration may have long-lasting, harmful effects on U.S.-born citizens.”

The study is believed to be the first to examine how the 287(g) program affects infant health. Using administrative data from 2004 to 2006, researchers examined birth and maternal health outcomes for immigrant mothers residing in Mecklenburg County before and after the 287(g) program was implemented.  They then compared the Mecklenburg data with similar statistics in counties that did not adopt the programs. Mecklenburg is home to the state’s largest city, Charlotte.

The researchers did not identify why immigrant women used less prenatal care. However, the authors suggest that fear may be one motivation.

“If going to the doctor means you might run into ICE, maybe you don’t go,” said Christina Gibson-Davis, professor of public policy and sociology. “It wasn’t the intention of the policy, but pregnant women not getting adequate prenatal care is worrying.”

To understand the magnitude of the effects, the researchers compared their findings to the benefits of participating in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“The adverse effects of the 287(g) program essentially counteracted the beneficial effects of participating in SNAP or WIC,” said Romina Tome, an economics researcher at American Institutes for Research and recent Ph.D. graduate of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “Exposure to policies during pregnancy can either be harmful or hurtful. These ICE policies appear to be harmful.”

This research was supported by the M.R. & C.G.D. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


CITATION: “Heightened immigration enforcement impacts U.S. citizens’ birth outcomes: Evidence from early ICE interventions in North Carolina,” R. Tome, M.A. Rangel, C.M. Gibson-Davis, L. Bellows. February 2021, PLoS ONE. DOI:


A Third of U.S. Families Face a Different Kind of Poverty

January 6, 2021

DURHAM, N.C. — Before the pandemic, one-third of U.S. households with children were already “net worth poor,” lacking enough financial resources to sustain their families for three months at a poverty level, finds new research from Duke University.

In 2019, 57 percent of Black families and 50 percent of Latino families with children were poor in terms of net worth. By comparison, the rate for white families was 24 percent.

“These ‘net worth poor’ households have no assets to withstand a sudden economic loss, like we have seen with COVID-19,” said Christina Gibson-Davis, co-author of the study and professor of public policy and sociology at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “Their savings are virtually nil, and they have no financial cushion to provide the basics for their children.”

The study is among the first to consider family poverty in terms of assets, not income. Using 1989-2019 data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, researchers analyzed net worth and income data from more than 19,000 U.S. households with children under age 18.

Among households with children, net worth poverty has been steadily rising over the past 30 years, the authors found. In 2019, a two-parent, two-child household was deemed to be net-worth poor if they had less than $6,500 in assets – or less than one-fourth of the federal poverty line.

Families in that category – those with perilously low levels of net worth — outnumbered families who were poor based on income.

“Uncovering this aspect of poverty, which hinges on wealth, is game-changing,” said Lisa Gennetian, co-author of the study and associate professor of early learning policy studies at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

“Most policies focus on income and families meeting their day-to-day needs,” Gennetian said. “These efforts are important. But our findings suggest that they are not helping families increase savings that help set children up for success.”

Notably, Black and Latino families were twice as likely to experience net worth poverty than to have poverty-level incomes.

“Reducing one kind of poverty isn’t helpful if another one is taking its place,” said Lisa Keister, study co-author and a professor of sociology at Duke. “Being net worth poor likely limits parents’ abilities to invest in their kids and shapes how they think about their kids’ future.”

The new research appears in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

“Even before the pandemic, many families with children were in a precarious situation,” Gibson-Davis said. “Things are not going to get better in the wake of COVID-19.”

This research was supported by the Russell Sage Foundation and the National Science Foundation (SES-2029790).

CITATION: “Net Worth Poverty in Child Households by Race and Ethnicity, 1989–2019,” C. M. Gibson-Davis, L.A. Keister, L.A. Gennetian. Journal of Marriage and Family (2020). DOI: