Child Trends conducts research, analyzes data, and evaluates programs in virtually every area in the child welfare field. Our areas of expertise include: prevention of maltreatment, child protection, court oversight, foster care, kinship care, adoption, and youth leaving care. We work closely with practitioners and policymakers who rely on our research and advice to make positive change in child welfare systems.
Child Trends recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids initiative, a program developed to promote adoption of children from foster care. In addition, our child welfare team is evaluating family finding programs across the country. We also created and maintain the State Child Welfare Policy Database, and we conduct biannual state surveys examining the funding streams that support child welfare services.
The rate of substantiated child maltreatment, as of 2011, has shown modest declines in the past five years, and is now at a level lower than at any time since 1990. The rates of physical and sexual abuse have declined the most, and rates of neglect have declined the least.
From our start more than 30 years ago, Child Trends has studied and reported on the well-being of children and youth. Our work in this area influences policies and practices in the U.S. and around the world. For us, child well-being is multi-dimensional and best measured over time. We look at positive and negative indicators that assess well-being across outcomes, behaviors and processes. We also review indicators that cover children of all ages from birth to their transition to adulthood. Our aim is to provide child well-being indicators that are easily and readily understood by policymakers, practitioners, and the public.
You can search our DataBank by topic and by the stages of children’s lives to examine trends and statistics measuring child well-being.
Participation in School Music or Other Performing Arts
The proportion of eighth-grade students involved in school music or other performing arts declined from 1991 to 2010, then increased in 2011. Performing arts participation stayed level for tenth- and twelfth-graders over that period.
Demographic indicators describe the essential structural features of children’s experience. The DataBank is user-friendly and directed to policymakers, program providers, and funders.
Number of Children
In 2011, there were nearly 74 million children younger than 18 in the United States. The child population will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, though it will account for a smaller share of the total population, as adults live longer and birth rates decline.
Child Trends researchers study young children from birth through early elementary school with a focus on understanding how the experiences children have across different settings can promote their optimal development and well-being. Our research experts work with the federal government, states and foundation partners to evaluate state policy initiatives such as Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), kindergarten readiness assessments, professional development initiatives for the early childhood workforce, and strategies to promote access and affordability of high quality early care and education. Child Trends’ early childhood team has produced nationally-recognized resources and research on school readiness, early care and education quality measurement, implementation science, family engagement, and coaching and consultation in early childhood settings. Child Trends contributes to the Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC), which provides tools and resources to encourage state policy change and provides a national forum to support the development and use of coordinated state ECE data systems.
Reading to Young Children
Young children who are read to regularly by family members experience multiple benefits. These include boosts in literacy development, as well as social-emotional gains, and increased likelihood of later overall school success.
Child Trends’ education research focuses on how children and youth can flourish in school. We examine supportive characteristics of the individual, the school, and the family to improve student outcomes and prevent drop out. Areas of research expertise include: non-academic competencies; college and workplace readiness; school climate; family strengths and involvement in education; character education; social and emotional learning; dropout prevention and recovery; charter schools and other school choice initiatives; place-based initiatives to improve educational outcomes; afterschool and summer learning; and educator effectiveness. We also offer technical assistance, including assistance with survey and measure development, synthesizing research, data analysis, policy analysis, program evaluation, reviews of best practices and initiatives to identify what works and what doesn’t.
Children Who Repeated a Grade
In 2007, among children in grades one through three, those with a parent who did not complete high school were more than seven times more likely to have repeated a grade than were children with a parent who had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Child Trends researchers study the physical and mental health of children and adolescents. Our staff conduct literature reviews, provide training and technical assistance and analyze datasets pertaining to health and access to health care. Our research informs program providers and policymakers developing strategies for addressing the health needs of children.
Child Trends develops and promotes indicators of child well-being used by researchers and policymakers to better understand children and youth and provide the means for assessing our shared accountability, as a nation, for their welfare. The Child Trends DataBank examines and monitors more than 100 indicators that focus on both risks and positive development for children. We also conduct in-depth reviews of subpopulations of children and youth – for example, children in adoptive families, infants and toddlers, and children in a particular region or jurisdiction.
For Venture Philanthropy Partners, Child Trends reported on the well-being of children and youth in the Washington, D.C. metro region. Capital Kids: Shared Responsibility, Shared Future.
Statutory Rape: Sex Between Young Teens and Older Individuals
Among young people ages 18 to 24 in 2006-10, ten percent of females and six percent of males reported that their first sexual experience occurred at age 15 or younger with an individual who was three or more years older than they were (“statutory rape”).
Child Trends’ international work focuses on cross-national comparisons of child and family well-being. We produce international comparison reports, such as the World Family Map, develop international surveys, analyze international data on children and families, and collaborate with others to move the field toward a global consensus around indicator frameworks, surveys, best practices, and what works to improve child and family well-being globally. We adapt measures to specific contexts, develop global conceptual frameworks and indicators of well-being, synthesize cross-national research, monitor and evaluate projects, and provide technical assistance and consultation to nations and international non-governmental organizations on all of these topics. We collaborate with organizations and universities in many regions of the world.
Overall, adopted children in the U.S. fare about as well as children in the general population. However, many adopted children bring to their new families a history of adverse early experiences that may make them more vulnerable to developmental risks.
Today’s children are born into and grow up in many different types of families. For example, four in ten babies in the U.S. are born to unmarried parents – either single or cohabiting. Child Trends tracks and analyzes the changes taking place in the structure of the American family over recent decades and how these changes impact children. We review the research literature, examine trends in the data, conduct qualitative studies, and evaluate programs intended to promote and support healthy relationships within and outside of marriage.
The proportion of children living with both parents, following a marked decline between 1970 and 1990, has fallen more slowly over the most recent two decades, dropping modestly from 69 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2012.
Child Trends investigates family relationships that influence a child’s development from birth through the transition to adulthood. We look at all family and household structures from children living with two parents, single parents, extended family members, and with foster and adoptive parents. We also study the role of fathers in children’s development and ways to improve father engagement among diverse groups of fathers. We offer expertise in quantitative and qualitative research, program evaluation, policy design, and technical assistance.
Children in poorer families, and those whose parents had less education, are more likely to have meals together with their families than are children with wealthier or more educated parents.
Child Trends is a leader in long-term efforts to conceptualize and measure positive indicators for children and adolescents. Child Trends has developed rigorous national indicators of flourishing among children and youth for inclusion in national surveys, research studies, and program evaluations. Read about our Positive Indicators Project.
More than a third of high school seniors volunteer at least once a month; adolescent volunteering has increased since 1991.
Poverty poses both immediate and long-term threats to children’s development. Child Trends researches and monitors the prevalence of child poverty over time, and its impact on child outcomes. Across all of our research areas, ranging from early childhood to youth development, our studies examine differences in child well-being by family income. We also have expertise in evaluating the effects of programs and policies aimed at children and families in poverty.
Our DataBank provides annual updates on the number and percent of children living under key poverty thresholds.
Children in Poverty
In 2010, more than one in five children (22 percent) lived in families with incomes below the poverty line, the highest level since 1993; by 2012, this proportion had fallen only slightly. Black and Hispanic children, children living in single-mother families, and children under five are even more likely to be poor.
Child Trends examines sexual activity, fertility, and contraceptive use and decision-making, focusing particularly on teens and young adults. Our research informs program providers and policymakers on strategies to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, and to promote healthy relationships. We collect and analyze data about teens and young adults, track trends, evaluate programs, and design and test new interventions and measures.
Six in ten high school students who are sexually active reported they used condoms at their most recent sexual intercourse. Condom use among this group increased from 46 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 2003, and was 60 percent in 2011.
Child Trends brings a multi-disciplinary perspective to its studies of adolescents and young adults and the programs that serve them. We conduct national and local evaluations of after-school and prevention programs. These evaluations include not only impact evaluations to examine whether programs are effective but also implementation evaluations to examine how they work—and how they might be improved through changes at the program, organizational and systems level. We work with programs and funders to ensure that programs are ready for evaluation by helping develop logic models, conduct needs assessments, and develop and refine their performance management capacities. A critical part of our work is research to understand and measure adolescent and young adult well-being for national studies and evaluations.
We also compile evaluations by researchers from around the world and synthesize these studies to identify effective (and ineffective) programs and practices. The information is widely disseminated in clear language via research briefs, policy briefings, webinars and through technical assistance to practitioners and local communities.
Adolescents Who Felt Sad or Hopeless
In 2011, over one-quarter (29 percent) of students in grades nine through 12 reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for an extended period (two or more weeks in a row) in the last year.