Universal Approaches to Promoting Healthy Development

May 29 2019
By Jonathan Wallace

Princeton University and the Brookings Institution released “Universal Approaches to Promoting Healthy Development” on May 29.

This is an issue of the journal The Future of Children that examines how universal programs offered to all parents in a community — as opposed to programs that target only the families most at risk for abuse, neglect, and other poor outcomes for children — can help make young children healthier, safer, and better prepared for school and for life.

Written by leading experts in language accessible to non-specialists, the seven articles in “Universal Approaches to Promoting Healthy Development” examine growing evidence that well-crafted and carefully implemented universal prevention strategies can significantly improve parental capacity and child safety while also enhancing child development. The themes highlighted in the issue include:

  • moving away from a singular emphasis on “fixing” flawed parents and toward enhancing the context in which parents raise their children,
  • shifting the focus from stopping or preventing the negative to promoting the positive,
  • measuring success in terms of changes not just among individual participants in a particular program but also among population-level indicators,
  • creating a framework in which universal strategies contribute to a more equitable and efficient allocation of costly targeted prevention and clinical services,
  • redefining the balance among competing goals: child safety, enhanced child development, and parental autonomy, and
  • expanding the way we learn what works best to promote healthy development, going beyond clinical trials to broader questions of implementation and continuous improvement.

The issue is accompanied by a policy brief, “Achieving Broad-Scale Impacts for Social Programs,” which argues the time is right to establish a universal system of psychosocial care for young families. Such a system would be similar to the existing health care system for young children, in which well-baby visits are universal and spaced out across the early lifespan, not triggered by an illness or medical diagnosis. As an example of what such a strategy could accomplish, the brief highlights the Family Connects program, designed at Duke University and first implemented in Durham, N.C.

The issue and policy brief were presented and discussed at an event held May 29 at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Produced at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, “Universal Approaches to Promoting Healthy Development” was edited by Deb Daro of the University of Chicago, Ken Dodge of Duke University, and Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, with funding from the Duke Endowment, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and First 5 LA.

The issue and policy brief are available to download free of charge from the Future of Children website.