Our History

Child Trends: A History of Thought Leadership

For almost 40 years, Child Trends has been a leading institution in the effort to improve the lives and prospects of all children and youth through rigorous research. Our work has helped shape the public policies that affect children and families, strengthened a wide array of social services, and increased public awareness of child and youth issues.

Building the nation’s data on children and youth

Child Trends was established in 1979 by the Foundation for Child Development (FCD). Long a leader in promoting the use of data in decision-making about children, FCD recognized the need for a national organization “to improve the quality, scope, and use of statistical information about children.” Child Trends was incubated in FCD’s New York offices, and moved to Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s.

Within a few years, Child Trends established itself as an indispensable data resource for policymakers, leading foundations, and the general public.cute little girl in the classroom early development plays with numerous toys

  • In 1983, we produced U.S. Children and Their Families: Current Conditions and Recent Trends, the first report on this population ever commissioned by Congress.
  • Through the 1990s, we produced Trends in the Well-Being of America’s Children and Youth, a comprehensive annual report of child and youth indicators published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Early in the new millennium, the federal government released America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, a shorter report calling attention to a short set of leading indicators of child and youth well-being. Child Trends drafted the first edition of America’s Children, working closely with staff from a wide range of federal statistical agencies.
  • Over the decades, Child Trends has been integral to the design of major federal surveys focused on children, youth, and their families. These include:
    • The Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, Birth and Kindergarten Cohorts
    • The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth
    • The National Survey of Children’s Health
    • The National Survey of Early Care and Education
    • National Survey of Children in Nonparental Care
    • The National Health Interview Survey
  • Since 1990, Child Trends has proudly contributed to KIDS COUNT, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s flagship initiative to provide a wide range of state-level data to inform advocacy and policies that benefit children and families. Child Trends has analyzed data for KIDS COUNT, contributed data for special reports, and provided technical assistance to the Foundation’s state-based grantees.

In 2002, Child Trends took its data expertise online, launching the Child Trends DataBank, which remains one of the most accessible and comprehensive sources of data on U.S. children, youth, and families. The Child Trends DataBank includes regularly updated data on more than 125 indicators of the well-being of children and youth, with clear summaries of the underlying research, explanation of important trends, and downloadable tables and graphs.

Expanding the Nation’s Knowledge Base

Understanding data and trends is necessary, but not always sufficient, when it comes to crafting effective policies and programs for children and youth. There is also a deep and rich body of research into child development that can improve policies and programs as well. Over the decades, Child Trends’ researchers have made significant contributions to that research base, and their knowledge of the scientific literature guides all of our work. As a result, Child Trends has been at the forefront of research on most of the major child and youth issues of recent decades.

Teen childbearing. Beginning in the early 1980s, Child Trends was in the vanguard of research organizations studying the factors that contributed to the increase in teen childbearing through the 1980s and early 1990s, and to its subsequent substantial decline. We led the field in reporting and analyzing trends at the state and local levels and among teens of different ages, income levels, and races. In particular, we brought a two-generation focus to the issue of teen pregnancy and childbearing, emphasizing its impact on both teen parents and their children.Teenage girl holding a baby

Among our accomplishments:

  • From 1982 to 2011, we published Facts at a Glance, an annual newsletter that was widely recognized as the premier source of state and city-level data on teen childbearing.
  • In 1995, we produced the congressionally-mandated Report to Congress on Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing, among the earliest publications to recognize that increases in childbearing by unmarried teens mirrored increases in childbearing by unmarried adults.
  • Child Trends was an active participant in the establishment and growth of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

  • Since 2010, Child Trends has been proud to work closely with the federal Office of Adolescent Health to strengthen evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs and to communicate knowledge of adolescent health to young people, their parents, and others.
  • In 2012, we began designing and testing El Camino, a research-based, evidence-informed program to prevent teen pregnancy in the Latino community, addressing a critical programming gap.

Child poverty. Since the 1960s, children have been the largest age group of Americans living in poverty.  Child Trends has long tracked child poverty, analyzed its implications, examined the family factors associated with it, and assessed the effectiveness of policies and programs to address child poverty. Among our many contributions:

Some of the earliest statistical profiles of children in poverty, beginning in the 1980s and continuing to this day.

  • An intensive focus on outcomes for children in families receiving welfare throughout the 1990s, culminating in the first-ever evaluation of the effects of welfare reform on children’s well-being.
  • We helped create and maintain the federal Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse, a continually updated source for research related to low-income families.
  • In the late 1990s, when federal “waivers” enabled states to experiment with a variety of approaches to welfare reform, Child Trends worked closely with states and federal agencies to frame and assess their approaches and the impact on children.

Early childhood. Our work on poverty and welfare reminded the nation that welfare affects two generations—parents and children—and that these issues were and are especially prominent for very young children. Early childhood initiatives have become central to the nation’s efforts to support the health, development, and school readiness of young children in low-income families. As public policies evolved, they often reflected Child Trends’ contributions, helping to expand the scope and quality of early care and education. Of particular note:

  • As publicly-subsidized child care became more available for families moving from welfare to work, Child Trends turned its attention to improving the quality of such care. We are a leading provider of evaluation and technical assistance to states as they develop, test, and improve their quality rating and improvement systems, intended both to improve child care quality, and to provide information and guidance to parents.
  • Through our work with the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation in the federal Administration for Children and Families, Child Trends has convened leading researchers and state officials to develop and execute a research agenda to help guide efforts to increase the quality of early care and education.
  • Continuing our focus on states, Child Trends is the hub of the Early Childhood Data Collaborative, helping states share data on young children across public systems.Young woman playing with boy
  • We are also a research and communications partner to the Alliance for Early Success, which works across the country to improve early care and education for young children.

The role of fathers in children’s lives. Child Trends was among the first research organizations to focus on the role of fathers in children’s lives. We have since pursued research into more complex family structures as well.

  • Our 2002 report, Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Report of Fathers and Mothers in America, broke new ground in its examination of fathers’ roles. Whereas previous studies of parenting focused mostly on mothers, Charting Parenthood, prepared with the NICHD Family and Child Well-being Research Network, expanded that lens to include fathers for the first time.
  • Building on this work, we helped fill critical gaps in the nation’s knowledge base by helping to develop measures for national surveys to capture fathers’ contributions to children’s well-being.
  • For many years, we have partnered with the National Fatherhood Initiative to produce fact sheets and other research products on multiple aspects of fathers’ lives.
  • Of particular note is our continuing focus on incarcerated parents, including an evaluation of the Safer Foundation’s Strengthening Families Program, which assists fathers who are reentering family life after time in prison, and a 2016 report, Parents Behind Bars, examining outcomes for children whose parents have experienced incarceration.

Child welfare. Research and evaluation related to children in the foster care and child protection systems took root at Child Trends in 2006, and has grown steadily ever since.

  • Child Trends evaluated Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, the signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Our evaluation of this innovative child-centered approach to promoting adoptions from foster care has led all 50 states and the District of Columbia to embrace this strategy. We continue to work with the Foundation to this day as it refines its program.
  • We evaluated family finding in states and jurisdictions around the country, and convened other family finding evaluators and administrators to explore the lessons and implications of this work.
  • We designed and analyzed the National Survey of Adoptive Families, the first of its kind.

    smiling, back to school

  • We are the data and evaluation partners for the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, which helps young people across the country transition successfully from foster care to independent adulthood.

Education. For years, Child Trends has provided critical statistical support to the U.S. Department of Education. More recently, our education portfolio has expanded to include some of the most pressing issues in the field.

  • Responding to educators’ growing recognition of the importance of social and emotional skills to success in school and the workforce, Child Trends developed rigorous measures for use at every stage of development: early childhood; elementary, middle, and high school; and young adulthood.
  • We have created a school climate survey used by states and school districts across the country.
  • We reviewed the research and evidence base for integrated student support, with findings that have been reflected in legislation in several states as well as the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Hispanic children. A hallmark of Child Trends has always been its ability to shine a light on groups of children overlooked by research, policy, and programs. Hispanic children and youth are one example. In 2014, we launched the Child Trends Hispanic Institute to help fill a critical gap in the knowledge of the fastest-growing group of children in the United States. In just the first few years, we have:

  • conducted one of the first random-assignment evaluations of a parenting program designed specifically for low-income Latino parents of young children, Abriendo Puertas. The evaluation report provides valuable information to the field of programs working with Latino parents;
  • created a comprehensive statistical profile of Latino children in the U.S., America’s Hispanic Children, Gaining Ground Looking Forward;
  • produced reports on rising math and reading scores for Hispanic students, highlighting states and cities that have made notable progress, while also calling attention to the continuing challenges facing these students; and
  • released The Invisible Ones, an examination of the large undercount of Latino young children in the 2010 Census, with recommendations for how to avoid a similar undercount in the 2020 Census.Adorable preschool hispanic boy school happy at school playground

Sharing Our Knowledge with the Nation

At Child Trends, we believe that sharing knowledge is as important as developing it. Since 1995, we have invested in the skillful, strategic communication of research to policymakers, funders, programs, the media, and the general public. As a result, Child Trends has emerged as a respected thought leader on issues related to children and youth. Among our communications accomplishments:

  • Childtrends.org. An online portal for all of Child Trends research information and resources, including the Child Trends DataBank, our What Works database on rigorously evaluated programs serving children, research reports and program evaluations, and our Hispanic Institute. Our website now attracts more than 1 million visitors annually.
  • Nonpartisan source. As a nonpartisan research organization, Child Trends has earned a reputation among policymakers and reporters as a trusted, credible source for information on children and youth. Every year, Child Trends participates in congressional and state legislative briefings and provides expert testimony at legislative hearings. Our research is featured regularly among the nation’s premier media outlets, such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, AP, NPR, and CNN.
  • Communications innovation. We continually seek out new ways to present and share our expertise. Child Trends’ blog, Trend Lines, attracts nearly 100,000 annual views. Our monthly Child Trends 5 feature presents five things to know about a timely children’s topic, and our weekly e-news reaches more than 30,000 subscribers.

Our rich history is a tribute to the contributions of hundreds of employees, clients, and partners we have been privileged to work with over the years. But our work is far from done. At a time when one child in five  still lives in poverty, and when racial, ethnic, and other forms of discrimination still exist, and when sufficient and appropriate supports for  children, youth, and families are at best a work in progress,  Child Trends remains as committed as ever to its mission:

Child Trends improves the lives and prospects of children and youth by conducting high-quality research and sharing the resulting knowledge with practitioners and policymakers.