Our Approach to Research

Child Trends’ research is informed by five principles:

  1. We take a “whole child” approach: We study children at every stage of development—from infancy to early adulthood, and across all the important domains of their lives, including 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 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 with people who can use it to improve children’s lives.
  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 want children to flourish: Research, policy, and practice for this population often focus on avoiding negative outcomes. Child Trends applies a broader lens, pursuing knowledge of how to promote positive outcomes as well.


With those principles in mind, we take the same approach with any new area of research:

  • Measure it.
    Child Trends measures the well-being of children and youth with rigor and precision. 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 what factors threaten healthy development, and what factors promote or enhance it. We want to know which 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 services and outcomes; to build the evidence base that will inspire new innovations; to enhance accountability; and to help programs focus on what is best for children. Our evaluations are 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.
    Programs use our research findings 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, funders and policymakers want to invest in programs that are evidence-based.
  • Share it.
    We recognize the importance of sharing the results of our research with practitioners, policymakers, funding organizations, and the public. We distribute results to communicate knowledge and insights on children, youth, and families. We also bring together experts to discuss the well-being of our children and youth.

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