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date: 15 December 2019

(p. xi) Preface

(p. xi) Preface

When our older daughter was growing up, she said that she was not going to be a researcher—she was going to do something useful… And one can see how a young person might feel that way. Rates of poverty have been high for decades, especially among families with children, both in relative and absolute terms, and poverty has been rising in recent years. An activist might decry spending more than a decade on research studies.

However, basic research has much to offer society. For example, research can highlight trends and patterns, such as the recent increase in poverty and the high rates of poverty among children relative to the elderly. In addition, analyses can identify subgroups where issues are particularly of concern, such as the high rates of poverty found among children of color and children in single-mother families.

Research can also highlight topics that are risk factors, such as deep and chronic poverty among young children. Research has identified early childhood as an age period not only when poverty is more common but also when the implications of poverty seem particularly severe. In addition, a growing research base is identifying protective factors, such as the importance of fathers to families and children. Fathers, research indicates, matter not only for their economic contributions but also for their positive (and under some circumstances negative) influences on children's development. Accordingly, father involvement, single parenthood, and family disruption have been highlighted as risk and protective factors intertwined with poverty.

On the other hand, research can also serve to identify issues that are not problems. For example, maternal employment has not been found to be negative for poor children, if child care quality and consistency are good. And research suggests that frequent moves per se are not as challenging as moves driven by economic factors, for adults at least. These kinds of analyses can suggest that programs and policies need not focus on generic changes in residence or employment for mothers, but might look more profitably in specific directions within these phenomena. Implicit in such research is sorting through issues of causality; often the same factor, for example, teen childbearing, is both a cause and an effect of poverty.

In addition, research can identify the mechanisms through which an experience like poverty affects families and children. Some mechanisms are fairly obvious, such as the amount and quality of food available for growing children. Other mechanisms are more subtle, such as family stress due to economic hardship and uncertainty, which affects not only family dynamics but also children's experiences with peers and institutions such as schools and public services. This kind of information is useful for identifying both preventive approaches and ameliorative strategies.

(p. xii) An understanding of the factors that are critical to families and children can inform the development of both intervention programs and public policies. For example, evidence that mothers with children often experience considerable material hardship after family disruption suggests directions for programs, such as job training to increase earnings, marriage education to help couples build stronger families, and pregnancy prevention efforts to reduce the number of uncommitted couples who find themselves parents. Public policies can include child support and health insurance.

Evaluation studies represent another critical contribution of research. They examine whether intervention strategies are effective and whether policies are associated with the effects that policy makers intend. Hence, research can not only suggest directions for intervention but it can also contribute to assessing whether interventions have the desired impacts. In addition, research can examine whether interventions have unintended consequences.

Good research, of course, is rigorous, non-partisan, and replicable. In a society driven by partisan divides and advocates for points of view that have little common ground, research can provide a common platform of facts on which to meet.

All of these ideas, and many more, are shared in the pages of this book, providing considerable evidence of the many ways that research is relevant to addressing poverty. And they provide considerable evidence of the value of the interdisciplinary science supported by the SEED (Science and the Ecology of Early Development) initiative in particular. Research matters. Our daughter came to agree as well. She completed a Ph.D. in human development and social policy and has become a researcher herself.

Kristin A. Moore, PhD

Senior Scholar

Child Trends

Washington, DC