Our Approach to Research

Five principles guide Child Trends’ approach to research:

  1. We take a “whole child” approach: We study children at every stage of development (from infancy to the transition to adulthood) and across all the important domains of their lives – health, cognition, and social/emotional well-being.
  2. We study children in the real world: We recognize the importance of family, child care, schools, clubs, and other settings in shaping and influencing children’s development and well-being.
  3. We want children to flourish: Much research, policy, and practice focuses largely on avoiding negative outcomes. Child Trends applies a broader lens, pursuing knowledge of how to promote positive outcomes, as well as avoid negative ones.
  4. We value objectivity and rigor: We are scientists, first and foremost. Our work is accepted across the ideological spectrum as unbiased and nonpartisan.
  5. We pursue both knowledge development and knowledge transfer: At Child Trends, it’s not enough to study an issue – we also want to share what we’ve learned in a timely and accessible way with people who can use it to improve children’s lives.

Our Approach to Research diagram


Guided by these principles, we bring the following approaches to bear on important trends, issues, and developments that affect children and youth:

  • Measure It
    Child Trends measures the well-being of children and youth with rigor and precision. In doing so, we identify critical issues, spot emerging trends, and deepen the public’s understanding of the opportunities and challenges that face the nation’s young people. When existing data do not capture all of the important dimensions of children’s lives, we develop and test new measures that expand the nation’s knowledge.
  • Understand it
    We seek to understand how children and youth develop, what factors threaten healthy development, and what factors promote or enhance it. We also seek to understand whether and how programs and policies work to the benefit or detriment of children and youth – and how to make them better.
  • Prove It
    We evaluate programs and interventions, with several goals in mind: to improve programs and services; to build an evidence base to inform new program models and innovations in service; to enhance accountability; and to help programs focus on what is best for children. Our approach to evaluation is rigorous, collaborative, dynamic and relevant to policy and programs. We recognize that new evidence and changing circumstances require revisions to program models and evaluation strategies
  • Scale It
    The findings of our research allow programs to expand effectively or to better allocate resources to provide the most benefit to children and youth. Our work also builds the evidence base necessary for the field to design new program models and adapt proven interventions to new populations. In an era of limited resources, policymakers rely on data and evaluation to determine which programs merit funding and/or expansion based on research measuring program effectiveness.
  • Share It
    Child Trends and its project partners recognize the importance of sharing the results of our research to practitioners, policymakers, funding organizations, and the public. We continuously publish and distribute research reports, briefs and E-News updates to share our knowledge and insights on children, youth and families. We also convene meetings and webinars to bring together experts to discuss topics of importance to the well-being of our children and youth.
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