Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Equity-Focused Policy Research: Building Cross-Cutting Evidence on Supports for Families with Young Children

Research shows that the earliest years of life are a critical period of human development. Young children’s earliest relationships and experiences have a strong influence on brain development and future health and well-being (Harvard University Center on the Developing Child 2016). Young children’s foundational relationships and experiences occur in the context of families and communities.

Yet, some families do not have access to the basic necessities and resources to foster the nurturing experiences and stimulating environments that young children need to thrive. These circumstances are especially likely to affect families of color, families living in rural areas, and other groups of families who experience gaps in access to supports and face disparities in outcomes related to health and well-being. What is needed are policies that support low-income families to provide stimulating and nurturing environments to promote children’s healthy physical, social- emotional, and cognitive development and their future success in school and life.

The Equity-Focused Policy Research (EFPR) grant program seeks to fund a body of research that illuminates strategies and policies that enhance families’ equitable access to key resources for supporting their children’s healthy development. EFPR grants are guided by a research agenda that focuses on: (1) understanding the sources of inequities in families’ access to and use of key resources; (2) identifying and testing innovations to advance equity; and (3) strategies for scaling up policies and approaches that are effective in advancing equity. The agenda addresses three policy areas as providing critical resources for families: (1) access to early care and education (ECE); (2) income supports (such as the Earned Income Tax Credit [EITC] and cash transfer programs) and income generation/replacement; and (3) nutrition supports (such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]).