The Foundation for Child Development is the oldest private, independent, grantmaking foundation in the nation with a sustained focus on improving the well-being and developmental trajectory of young children. Over the course of its 120-plus-year history, the Foundation has contributed to the field of child development by supporting research, policy formation, effective practice, and advocacy.
The Foundation for Child Development started as an Auxiliary Board of the New York City Children’s Aid Society in 1899 and was incorporated as a voluntary agency in 1900. From the start, the mission focused on affirming the public responsibility for the education of children. Leading the Auxiliary Board, Mabel Irving Jones, a concerned citizen and advocate, and her colleagues worked to ensure access to formal education for children with physical disabilities, as many were homebound, in the early twentieth century. By 1904, nearly 120 school-aged children with disabilities were attending school outside of the home. In 1906, Public School 104 of the New York City Board of Education operated the first public school class for children with physical disabilities.
In 1908, the Auxiliary Board was established as the Association for the Aid of Crippled Children (AACC) separate from the Children’s Aid Society to teach and aid children with disabilities, including victims of polio. The AACC was supported entirely by public contributions and employed trained nurses to oversee school nurse services and health services. In addition to providing braces and other therapeutic devices and transportation to school and health clinics, the AACC also established physical rehabilitation facilities. By 1940, over 30,000 children benefited from these services. In 1913, the Foundation’s mission of utilizing research to inform policy and practice was cemented through supporting large-scale survey studies of city neighborhoods (Cherry Hill and Yorkville), children’s health’s needs, and access to services.
In 1944, the AACC received a bequest from the Estate of Milo M. Belding, a silk manufacturer and banker whose donation honored his spouse, Annie K. Belding, a devoted volunteer and association board member for over 20 years. This bequest allowed the AACC to become a grant-making organization. Although the AACC continued to provide direct services to children, in 1950 the Visiting Nurse Service of New York assumed this aspect of the agency’s services. Also during this period, the Association expanded its purview to include children with other developmental disabilities and disorders.
In 1962, the origins of supporting early career scholarship and developing new research fields began with the establishment of the Belding Scholars to support research focusing on relationships among and between the biological and social sciences. In 1981, the Foundation established the Young Scholars Program (YSP) to support the emerging field of developmental psychology focusing on child well-being, as well as young children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. In 2003, the Foundation re-established YSP, this time to support a new generation of scholars and their research on the development, early education, and the health needs of young immigrant or newcomer children. Today, YSP continues with a current focus on examining the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of the early care and education workforce to enhance young children’s growth and development across the birth-through-age-eight continuum.
In 1972, in recognition of its evolving focus on child development and of its status as a grant-making organization, the Association changed its name to the Foundation for Child Development. The change also reflected a broader focus on the trajectories of all children’s lives and the systems and conditions that affect them, such as child poverty and economic instability. The Foundation developed several new program areas that linked research to policy, practice, and leadership development. During the mid-1970s grants also focused upon methods that would transfer knowledge from scholarly endeavor to government policy-makers. For example, in 1974, in partnership with the William T. Grant Foundation, the Foundation established Congressional Science Fellowships through the Society for Research in Child Development. These fellowships provided individuals with the opportunity to learn about and contribute to the national legislative process with the goal of translating child development knowledge into public policymaking.
In the 1980-1990’s, the Foundation built partnerships with organizations to focus on societal interventions supporting children from low-income families. Much of the work focused on creating a two-generation perspective in intervention policies related to family income insecurity, helping families to attain self-sufficiency through work, and on reforming child welfare policy and practice. In addition, the Foundation continued the case study, neighborhood approach to identify effective practice strategies that would improve children’s lives by supporting the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
In the 2000’s, the Foundation continued working at the intersection of research, policy, and practice by building and shaping the prekindergarten to third grade initiative which aimed to create strong connections between learning experiences across these critical years. The PreK-3rd approach requires strong alignment of educational standards, curricula, assessment, instruction, and professional development, as evidenced by many of the case studies that the Foundation supported to highlight effective models.
Through out its history, the Foundation has nurtured groundbreaking work in diverse areas of child development – physical, cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. It has been a leader in understanding children’s disabilities, prevention, and parent education. It has shaped the fields of developmental psychology, of two-generational, poverty alleviation strategies, of advocacy for low-income children and their families, and of PreK-3rd systems alignment. It sees investing in early career scholars as way to build emerging, needed research areas and develop future field leaders. In 1999, the Foundation celebrated its centennial. Read more about our history in 100 Years of Commitment to Children: Change and Continuity and in Our Basic Dream. The Foundation’s archives from 1909 through 2000 are also located at the Rockefeller Archive Center and materials can be accessed electronically at http://www.rockarch.org/.
Today, the Foundation for Child Development’s commitment to children continues, as well as does the focus on integrating research, policy, and practice to improve the lives of young children. Visit Our Work to learn more about the Foundation’s current work to strengthen the early care and education workforce to ensure that young children receive high-quality early care and education from birth through age eight.