Center faculty and staff produce a wide range of publications on topics related to child and family policy, such as parenting practices, child abuse prevention, education reform, teen substance abuse prevention and more. Search publications by topic here.

New Research Findings

Evaluation of North Carolina Early Childhood Program Among Middle School Students

Kenneth Dodge, Helen Ladd, Clara Muschkin, and Yu Bai have published a series of academic articles evaluating the impact of North Carolina’s Smart Start (SS) and More at Four (MF) programs (now known as NC Pre-K) on children’s academic outcomes through elementary school (Ladd et al., 2014; Muschkin et al. 2015; Muschkin et al. 2018; Dodge et al. 2018). The current analysis extends the evaluation of the same students over the course of middle school, through the end of Grade 8. Two main research questions are asked: First, did each program continue to have a positive impact on math and reading test scores, decrease the likelihood of being placed in special education service, and reduce the probability of being a grade repeater? Second, did program impacts differ significantly across subgroups within the population, defined by maternal education, family income, and the child’s race? This evaluation was motivated in part by inconsistent findings from other studies of early childhood programs, suggesting that, in some cases, initial program effects might fade out as students progress through school. The researchers find that the long-term impacts of Smart Start and NC Pre-K (More at Four) remain significant at least through the end of Grade 8.

Read More: Executive Summary, Working Paper


Impact of a Neuroscience-Based Health Education on High School Students’ Health Behavior

In education, we expect children to use their brain to learn – but we never teach them how to take care of it. Health education courses that are offered in high school rarely focus on brain functioning or the link between brain functioning and health behaviors such as sleep, exercise, healthy eating, and stress. This is a missed opportunity as adolescence is a unique developmental period for both the promotion of healthy behaviors and prevention of risky behaviors. In a new study from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University, Leslie Babinski, lead author, and researchers evaluate the potential of a neuroscience-based health education course and its impact on student outcomes.

Thirteen teachers from two high schools and nearly 400 students participated in the quasi-experimental pilot study. Students were assessed of their knowledge and behaviors through online surveys.

Findings from the pilot demonstrated the course could be successfully implemented in high schools and that students gained knowledge about the links between their brains and their health behaviors.  However, the study did not show effects on student health beliefs and behaviors over the course of one semester.  For more information and authors’ implications and conclusions, view the full report published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.


Early Intervention Curbs Crime, Psychiatric Problems

Fighting kids 4 - tonbabydc-001Aggressive children are less likely to become violent criminals or psychiatrically troubled adults if they receive early intervention, says a new study based on more than two decades of research by Kenneth Dodge and colleagues at Duke and other universities.

The findings are based on the Fast Track Project, a multi-faceted program that is one of the largest violence-prevention trials ever funded by the federal government.

Beginning in 1991, the researchers screened nearly 10,000 5-year-old children in Durham, Nashville, Seattle and rural Pennsylvania for aggressive behavior problems, identifying those who were at highest risk of growing up to become violent, antisocial adults. Nearly 900 children were deemed at high risk, and of those, half were randomly assigned to receive the Fast Track intervention, while the other half were assigned to a control group. Participating children and their families received an array of interventions at school and at home.

Nineteen years later, the authors found that Fast Track participants at age 25 had fewer convictions for violent and drug-related crimes, lower rates of serious substance abuse, lower rates of risky sexual behavior and fewer psychiatric problems than the control group. Read More    Listen to NPR Story


Fighting Teen Prescription Drug Abuse: Which Programs Work Best?

IMG_5176ed2Durham, NC – Programs that aim to curb teen prescription drug abuse have vastly differing effectiveness,  ranging from big drops in drug abuse to no measurable effect, according to a new study of 11,000 teenagers by researchers at Duke and Pennsylvania State universities.

The best results came from pairing a school-based program with a home-based intervention, resulting in a 10 percent decrease in abuse rates. By contrast, most school-based programs were ineffective when used by themselves, with just one exception.

The six-year study is among the first to measure the success and cost-effectiveness of prescription drug abuse prevention efforts.

Abuse of prescription opioids, a form of painkiller, is the fastest-growing form of illicit drug use in the country, affecting more than 12 million Americans and killing more people annually than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended restricting access to painkillers such as Percocet, Oxycontin and Vicodin.

“These drugs are very available, and highly addictive,”  said Max Crowley, an NIH Research Fellow at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “There’s a growing national debate about whether we should restrict access to these drugs, but at the same time, the drugs are hugely important for pain management. What’s being left out of the debate is the role of prevention.”

Read More: Duke Today  Preventive Medicine  Science Codex    The Oregonian  HealthCanal   Futurity Medical Xpress     Science World Report

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Home Visiting Pays Dividends

Durham connects home visit (3)Nurse visits to newborns and their parents result in a dramatic decline in emergency room care, according to a new Center study in a special Nov. 1 issue of Pediatrics. The study, by Kenneth Dodge, Ben Goodman and others, evaluated the effects of Durham Connects, a program that was developed by the Center in collaboration with the Durham County Health Department and the Center for Child and Family Health. Using a randomized controlled trial, the researchers found that newborns who participated in Durham Connects had 50 percent less emergency care usage than control group families in the first year of life. The results held true for all the families studied, including the privately insured, those with no insurance and low-income families on Medicaid. Full Study


Troubled Care for Disabled Youths

kidsChildren with disabilities receive harsher punishment across the developing world, according to a Center study based on interviews with nearly 46,000 caregivers in 17 low- to middle-income countries.

The study, which appeared in Child Development, found that disabled children were more likely to be severely punished by being hit on the head or beaten with an object such as a stick or belt, said Jennifer Lansford, a Center research professor.

Disabilities affect at least 93 million children worldwide, and are more prevalent in poor countries: Eighty percent of the world’s disabled population resides in the developing world. Yet little scholarly attention has been paid to how children with disabilities fare in poorer countries.

The study is the largest to date to examine the link between children’s disabilities and the discipline they receive. News Article


New Reports

Handbook of Adolescent Development Research and Its Impact on Global Policy

The handbook, edited by Jennifer Lansford, draws on the expertise of 50 scholars from diverse backgrounds to present research on issues that affect adolescents in low- and middle-income countries. The book aims to fill critical evidence gaps to speed evolution of policy-making that better addresses adolescent well-being across the globe. Download Handbook






Assessing Early Learning docs newsroom news 2013 14 20131009 think tank.pdfNorth Carolina currently begins measuring students’ academic progress in grade 3. But by that time, learning problems often have already taken root. The state should tune in to children’s academic progress earlier without burdening teachers with more high-stakes testing, says a report from a group of 22 educators and other education experts that met at Duke over the course of six months to study early learning. The report of the K-3 Assessment Think Tank emphasizes formative assessment, which is assessment that occurs in the course of day-to-day instruction. Full Report




Substance Use and Abuse in Durham County

About 18,000 Durham adults abused drugs or alcohol in 2012, and among them were growing numbers of prescription drug abusers, says a new report from the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy.

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise statewide. Across the state, 1,140 residents died from unintentional poisonings in 2011, and nearly 80 percent of those deaths were related to prescription drug abuse. That’s a 300 percent increase since 1991. Durham mirrored the statewide trend, with 16 deaths related to prescription drugs in 2011.

Using a wealth of data from several different agencies, the report summarizes the toll substance abuse takes on the community, suggesting the many ways drug and alcohol abuse feed other social problems, including homelessness, crime and domestic violence.

Full Report