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 conduct biennial state surveys examining the funding streams that support child welfare services.
In 2012, 397,000 children were in foster care, a 30 percent decline from the 1999 peak of 567,000, and a number lower than that seen in any of the past 25 years. In 2013 the number had increased to 402,000.
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.
Measures of Flourishing
Among the characteristics associated with optimal development are positive relationships, curiosity, interest and persistence in learning, and resilience. Children and youth who are female, white, or more affluent more frequently demonstrate these qualities, according to their parents.
Demographic indicators describe the essential structural features of children’s experience. The DataBank is user-friendly and directed to policymakers, program providers, and funders.
Racial and Ethnic Composition of the Child Population
Between 1980 and 2013, the percentage of children in the United States who are Hispanic more than doubled, from nine percent to 24 percent. Their share is projected to increase to more than one-quarter (26 percent) of the child population by 2020.
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 promote optimal development and well-being. Our team works with the federal government, state agencies, communities, and foundations on research, evaluation, and policy projects that address important issues for policymakers, practitioners, and families. We are skilled at developing resources and reports that address complex topics in easy-to-understand terms. We are strong thought partners in addressing a range of early childhood issues.
Much of our work fits into five broad categories.
Early School Readiness
Compared with white or black children, Hispanic children are less likely to be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet, count to 20 or higher, or write their names before they start kindergarten. Black children are similar to white children on these measures, but are more likely than white children to be reading words in books.
Child Trends’ education research strives to identify the educational policies, programs, and structures that create the positive conditions for learning that help youth flourish in primary and secondary school, college, career, and beyond. Areas of research expertise include: social and emotional learning and non-academic competencies; health and nutrition policies; college and workplace readiness; school climate and discipline; bullying; integrated student services; charter schools; family strengths and involvement in education; international comparisons; character education; dropout prevention and recovery; science, technology, engineering, and math education (STEM); and afterschool and summer learning. We offer technical assistance (including survey, measure, and indicator development, as well as strategic planning around school initiatives), research syntheses, data and policy analysis, training, program evaluation, and reviews of best practices to identify what works and what doesn’t.
Unsafe At School
About one in twenty-five adolescents feared attack at school or on the way to and from school in 2011, compared with about one in nine in 1995.
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.
Following years of increasing coverage, progress towards full immunization of all two-year-olds has stalled since 2004, standing at 81 percent in 2013.
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.
Overweight Children and Youth
The proportion of U.S. adolescents who are obese continued to increase in 2011-12, while the proportion among younger children remained the same or decreased. More than one in five adolescents, and one in six elementary-school-aged children, were obese, as was more than one in twelve preschoolers.
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.
Births to Unmarried Women
In 2013, as it has been for six consecutive years, more than four in ten births (41 percent) were to unmarried women.
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.
Parental Involvement in Schools
The percentage of students whose parents reported involvement in their schools rose significantly between 1999 and 2007 across several measures, including attendance at a general meeting, a meeting with a teacher, or a school event, and volunteering or serving on a committee. However, these proportions fell or remained the same in 2012.
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.
Secure Parental Employment
As of 2011, three in ten children (27 percent) did not have at least one resident parent employed full-time, year-round. Among children younger than six, one-third (31 percent) were without secure parental employment, and, of children in families headed by single mothers, more than half (59 percent).
Poverty poses both immediate and long-term threats to children’s development. Child Trends monitors the prevalence of child poverty over time, and its impact on child outcomes. In all of our research areas, from early childhood to youth development, we examine differences in child well-being by family income. We also evaluate 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.
In 2013, more than one in five U.S. children (21 percent) lived in households that were food-insecure at some point during the year, and 1.0 percent experienced the most severe level of need, where food intake is reduced and regular eating patterns are disrupted.
Child Trends examines sexual activity, contraceptive use, and fertility, 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.
Pregnancy rates among adolescent females fell steadily between 1990 and 2005, and, while there was a slight rise between 2006 and 2007, subsequent data through 2010 indicate a return to the earlier trend. The U.S. rate of teen pregnancy is now at an historic low.
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 (see brief about Abriendo Puertas). These evaluations include not only impact evaluations to examine whether programs are effective, but also implementation evaluations to examine how they work. 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 (for example, the Positive Indicators Project).
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.
Home Computer Access and Internet Use
In 2011, almost six out of ten children ages three to 17 used the Internet at home (58 percent), nearly six times as many as in 1997 (11 percent). Eighty-three percent had a computer at home, up from 15 percent in 1984.