Building the Evidence Base for PN-3

Building the Evidence Base

A prioritized research agenda, developed in collaboration with scholars and practitioners, to continue to build a strong and equitable prenatal-to-3 system of care

The Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center will convene top national scholars and policy leaders to advance a PN-3 Policy Research Agenda through a series of Research-to-Policy Collaboratives (R2Ps). Each R2P will examine an area in which the science is clear about the importance of supporting children and their parents during the earliest years, but further study is needed on the best policy approaches for improving outcomes.

Of critical importance, the Policy Impact Center will bring an equity lens to the work of building the evidence base. We will prioritize strengthening equity and reducing disparities as we work with scholars and policy leaders to develop a research agenda. In addition to conducting equity audits of each policy analyzed for the Clearinghouse, we plan to commission policy papers on how policies have perpetuated and exacerbated inequality, and how those historical underpinnings have contributed to the inequities in health and wellbeing outcomes that exist today.

The five policy goals that we anticipate convening R2Ps around are:

  1. Healthy and Equitable Birth Outcomes
  2. Parental Health and Emotional Wellbeing
  3. Nurturing and Responsive Child-Parent Relationships
  4. Nurturing and Responsive Child Care in Safe Settings
  5. Optimal Child Health and Development.


We also plan to support a R2P comprised of scholars who study the science of the developing child, with the goal of bridging advances in basic science and PN-3 policy. Each R2P will provide peer review of our analyses of existing evidence, help us identify gaps in the evidence base, share relevant studies in progress, and advance new research studies to fill gaps in the extant research.

Healthy and Equitable Birth Outcomes

This R2P will focus on policy approaches for ensuring that children are born healthy to healthy parents, and that pregnancy experiences and birth outcomes are equitable. The group will bring expertise in strategies that are currently being used at state or local levels to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity and improve birth outcomes, and specifically to address racial disparities in these outcomes. The scope of this group will include examining what we can learn from and need to learn about programs and approaches such as group prenatal care, Perinatal Quality Collaboratives, AIM Bundles, doulas, and implicit bias training.

Parental Health and Emotional Wellbeing

This R2P will focus on policy approaches for supporting parents’ physical and mental health. Given the prevalence of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, during the perinatal period and the importance of mothers’ emotional wellbeing for supporting infant mental health and healthy development, this group will pay particular attention to effective approaches for supporting maternal mental health. The group will bring expertise on approaches related to effectively screening and connecting parents to services, and approaches for better serving parents, including integrated physical and behavioral health services and perinatal mental health programs.

Nurturing and Responsive Child-Parent Relationships

This R2P will focus on policy approaches for promoting warm, nurturing, and stimulating interactions between parents and their young children that support healthy child development. The group will bring expertise on interventions, such as evidence-based home visiting programs, that work to build parents’ knowledge and skills related to responsive caregiving. The group will include a particular focus on fathers and include leading experts on programmatic approaches to serving fathers, as well as policies related to parenting time and child support that influence fathers’ engagement with their children. 

Nurturing and Responsive Child Care in Safe Settings

This R2P will focus on policy approaches for improving quality in early care and education, including advancing the research specific to infants and toddlers. The Policy Impact Center piloted the first R2P in March 2020 by bringing together ten national experts on early care and education in a virtual format.

The national experts included in this inaugural R2P included:

  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ph.D.— Columbia University
  • Margaret Burchinal, Ph.D.— University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Dina Castro, Ph.D.— University of North Texas
  • Iheoma Iruka, Ph.D.—HighScope Educational Research Foundation
  • Junlei Li, Ph.D.—Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Joan Lombardi, Ph.D.—Early Opportunities LLC
  • Helen Raikes, Ph.D.—University of Nebraska at Lincoln
  • Kathryn Tout, Ph.D.—Child Trends
  • Deborah Vandell, Ph.D.—University of California at Irvine
  • Marcy Whitebook, Ph.D.— University of California at Berkeley

The group provided feedback on our review of the literature on early care and education and discussed the research agenda for building the evidence base on infants and toddlers. The initial R2P provided us with important next steps for our ongoing review of the existing research, connected key scholars in the field, and facilitated a dialogue about how the group can work together to advance research in this area.

To learn about the forthcoming reviews of the Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Clearinghouse, click here.