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Faculty & Research

Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.

Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development
Director, Center on the Developing Child
Professor of Pediatrics, HMS and Boston Children's Hospital

Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.

Degree:  M.D., New York University, (1972)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.496.1224
Fax:  617.496.1229
Office:  50 Church Street 4th Floor
Office Hours Contact:  Email the Faculty Member
Faculty Assistant:  Yaimani Rivera


Jack Shonkoff, M.D., is the Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Graduate School of Education; professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital; and director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. He currently serves as chair of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a group whose mission is to bring credible science to bear on public policy affecting young children, and chairs the JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress. In 2011, Shonkoff launched Frontiers of Innovation, a multi-sectoral collaboration among researchers, practitioners, policymakers, investors, and experts in systems change who are committed to developing more effective intervention strategies to catalyze breakthrough impacts on the development and health of young children and families experiencing significant adversity.

Under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, Shonkoff served as chair of the Board on Children, Youth, and Families and the committee that produced the landmark report, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. He also served as a member of the Panel on Child Care Policy, the Committee on the Assessment of Family Violence Interventions, and the Roundtable on Head Start Research.

Shonkoff's honors include being elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Pediatric Society; being designated National Associate of the National Academies; and receiving the C. Anderson Aldrich Award in Child Development from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Policy for Children from the Society for Research in Child Development.

Shonkoff has served on the core scientific group of the MacArthur Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development, the Governing Council of the Society for Research in Child Development, and the Executive Committee of the Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He has authored more than 150 publications, including nine books; co-edited two editions of the Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention; and served on the editorial board of several scholarly journals, including Child Development.

Shonkoff completed his undergraduate studies at Cornell, medical education at NYU School of Medicine, pediatric training at Bronx Municipal Hospital Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and fellowship in developmental pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital. He has been a visiting professor or delivered named lectureships at universities in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Turkey, and the U.K. He was the Samuel F. and Rose B. Gingold Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and dean of The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

Click here to see a full list of Jack Shonkoff’s courses.

Sponsored Projects

Continuing the Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship Program (2019-2021)
Novak Djokovic Foundation

The aim of the Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship is to develop this next generation of academic change agents who will both contribute to advances in science and leverage those advances to inform, inspire, and mobilize key actors in the field of early childhood towards new solutions that yield breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity. As such, Djokovic Fellows will receive rigorous training in translational research, framing and communications, and science-based innovation. In addition, the Djokovic Fellows will be able to draw on the Center on the Developing Child's many resources to deepen their own scholarly interests and advance their scholarly pursuits. While the program experience will be tailored to each Fellow's research interests and professional development it will universally include: 1. Learning about the Center's IDEAS Impact Framework (IDEAS) 2. Learning about the Center's knowledge synthesis, translation, and communications work and strategies 3. Learning about the Center's approach to science-based innovation in policy and practice systems

Supporting Mobilization of Science Based Innovation (2018-2020)
Omidyar Network

grant is in support of the Center’s vision of science-based innovation as a catalyst for change as outlined in our newly completed business plan, in which all major efforts are aligned to leverage our Center’s unique science engine to drive 2 strategic initiatives: (1) building an innovation pipeline within the early childhood ecosystem; and (2) creating a pediatric innovation cluster linked to that pipeline. Our science engine consists of 3 highly inter-related components: (1) science synthesis, translation & communication; (2) a more precise approach to intervention design, evaluation & strengthening; and (3) new measures of stress effects and resilience.

The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress (2018-2021)
JPB Foundation

The foundations of healthy development are built early in life, yet significant adversity can disrupt developing brain architecture and other biological systems leading to physiological changes and behaviors that increase risk for lifelong problems in development, achievement, and both physical and mental health. Reducing stresses on families, strengthening parent-child relationships, and building the adult skills needed to provide a well-regulated caregiving environment all offer promising pathways toward better life outcomes for millions of children living under adverse conditions. Pediatric primary care, which provides the earliest possible access to the largest percentage of young children, especially those at greatest risk, is a key delivery channel for developing, testing, and ultimately implementing such strategies. Achieving greater impacts in the context of primary health care requires a better understanding of two critical challenges: (1) variation in susceptibility to adversity (in order to direct finite resources to those at greatest risk) and (2) individual differences in response to intervention (to match targeted services to the varied assets and needs of children and families). The ultimate goal of The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress is to leverage 21st-century science to transform pediatric practice and produce breakthrough impacts at scale on the lives of millions of children and families facing adversity. Our strategy for achieving this goal is to fundamentally change the way we understand, measure, and reduce or mitigate the effects of excessive, early stress on child development and lifelong health. Our aim is to strengthen the capacity of the primary care system to promote both physical and mental well-being for each individual child by adopting a scientifically-grounded approach to two key challenges: (1) providing more effective guidance and support for parents raising young children under a variety of conditions; and (2) catalyzing a segmentation approach to developing, strengthening, and evaluating intervention strategies that enables us to learn what works for whom, why, and in what context in order to personalize services for children and families. The development of a validated measure of stress effects in young children is a critical prerequisite for addressing these challenges. The successes of the Network’s initial three-year period are reflected in both the novel, candidate, biomarker battery that has been designed specifically for young children, and the authentic co-ownership of this effort by a deeply committed group of scientists, practitioners, and community leaders. The current battery includes adaptations of advances in the biological sciences (e.g., assays of oxidative stress at the cellular level) and several newly created indicators for childhood populations, including a pediatric epigenetic “clock” defining atypical development, polygenic risk scores, and measures of altered brain development and metabolic trajectories, all linked in human and animal models. These accomplishments demonstrate the integrative capacity of the Network and its potential ability to expand the application of rapidly spreading principles of “precision medicine” beyond the treatment of illness to the promotion of health and prevention of disease. In the proposed work plan for Phase II, Network scientists will continue to dig deeper into the biology of adversity, resilience, and developmental plasticity to assure that the biomarker battery is informed by cutting-edge science.

Reducing the Consequences of Early Adversity through Breakthrough Thinking and Game-Changing Measurements (2018-2020)
Genentech, Inc.

Our intended outcome for this work will be for pediatricians within the JPB Research Network and Frontiers of Innovation pediatric cluster to have clear strategies and compelling tools for communicating the role of biomarkers in helping clinicians and families identify and “treat” children who are most susceptible to the effects of significant adversity without stigmatizing those adults (or children) who have experienced toxic levels of stress. Once we have validated these approaches in pilot settings, the Center will participate in a convening and dissemination strategy in collaboration with institutional partners such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Tikun Olam 2017 (2018-2019)
Tikun Olam Foundation

Our knowledge translation and communication work, which has been a key focus since the Center’s inception in 2006, is an important part of achieving the broader goals of the Center, which also include developing and testing new strategies for achieving breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity. Our communication work contributes to transforming the landscape within which innovation can thrive by changing mindsets for decision-making at the policy and system level, in practice, and in communities. Our aim is to help key target audiences understand the importance of early childhood—and of adult capabilities in supporting child development. Then we must help those audiences understand the implications of the science for the decisions they make every day in their areas of expertise and influence. Only then will they be ready for the message that the best of what we do now is just a starting point, and that an innovation ecosystem is required to solve our biggest challenges on behalf of children and families.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2018-2018)
Simms/Mann Family Foundation

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child housed at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University is a multidisciplinary, multi-university collaboration committed to closing the gap between what we know and what we do to promote successful learning, adaptive behavior, and sound physical and mental health for all young children. Established in 2003, the Council translates science to build public will that transcends political partisanship and recognizes the complementary responsibilities of family, community, workplace, and government to promote child well-being. The Council generates, analyzes, and integrates scientific knowledge to educate policymakers, civic leaders, and the general public about the rapidly growing science of early childhood development and its underlying neurobiology. It produces working papers, briefs, videos, and other communication tools through a knowledge synthesis and translation process designed to overcome common barriers to understanding and applying the science. Council members frequently present the science and its implications to national, state, and community leaders, and engage with the media to help inform the public policy discourse around child and family policy. Over the next two years the Council will deepen its understanding of emerging science related to the connections between health and development. Specific areas of interest include how the microbiome and the immune system develop and interact with the brain. This work is intended to culminate in new products communicating the science to policymakers, practitioners, and the general public. In addition, the Council is developing new ways to communicate the results of earlier investigations into: (1) the policy and practice implications of understanding how our neurobiological systems of reward and motivation develop; and (2) new discoveries about neural plasticity and the effects of adversity on the timing of sensitive periods of development. Finally, alignment between the Council and the Center’s JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress, is aimed at connecting the JPB Network’s original research agenda with the Council’s “knowledge synthesis and translation” agenda.

Increasing the Supply of and Demand for Science-Based Innovation in ECD (2018-2018)
Pritzker Family Foundation

The Center on the Developing Child is working to increase both the supply of and demand for more effective, scalable strategies that strengthen the foundations of healthy development and substantially improve the readiness of millions of children to enter school prepared to succeed. We view the current revolution in neuroscience and molecular biology as a powerful, untapped resource for creating common understanding among practitioners, policymakers, service providers, community leaders, and families about how development unfolds, how it can be derailed, and how to keep it on track, particularly in the first three years after birth. Such an understanding is the first step in transforming the landscape in which early childhood policies and practices unfold. Without a landscape that supports science-based innovation, the market for new ideas will be limited and the obstacles to impact at scale will be formidable. This grant will allow the Center to continue (and further enhance) its groundbreaking work in: (1) synthesizing, translating, and communicating the science of ECD, caregiver capabilities, and the effects of early life stress on health outcomes across the lifespan; (2) developing and testing new measures of the effects of stress on children from birth to age two; and (3) supporting the advocacy efforts of PCI and other partners through the strategic use of our materials, advice, and targeted testimony.

Hemera Innovation Fund 2017 (2018-2018)
Hemera Foundation

This award is one of a series awarded from a $2,000,000 Innovation Fund created by Hemera, with the purpose of supporting the Center’s Frontiers of Innovation initiative (the “FOI Initiative”) and its collaborators. The Innovation Fund directly supports the Center’s trajectory towards ambitious idea generation, innovative project designs, community-supported implementation strategies, and the development of evaluation metrics that lead to actionable insights within a rapid cycle iteration process.This discreet award supports a process for integrating the Center’s evolving business plan thinking into current and emerging initiatives to develop a more effective innovation ecosystem for early childhood development.

Two Approaches to Measuring Executive Function and Regulation-Related Skills in Early Childhood Classroom Settings (2017-2019)
Bezos Family Foundation

Developing executive function (EF) and regulation-related skills (RRS) is a core milestone of early childhood (Ursache, Blair, & Raver, 2012). Comprising a diverse set of sub-skills, EF and RRS collectively help children to control their attention, emotion, and behaviors in the service of meeting a particular goal. Together, these skills allow children to attend to important information, avoid impulsive reactions, and navigate social challenges in their everyday lives. Indeed, a large literature has shown that EF and RRS are central to children’s success both early in life and through adulthood (e.g., Blair & Razza, 2007; Moffitt et al., 2011). A number of methods are currently available to measure RRS in early childhood. These approaches include computerized and behaviorally-based tasks that target children’s ability to activate specific regulatory sub-skills, as well as adult (e.g., teacher, parent) reports of broader behavior or clinical symptoms such as ADHD (Jones, Zaslow, Darling-Churchill, & Halle, 2016). Each of these approaches has strengths and limitations. Importantly, none of the current approaches to measuring RRS appropriately capture the second-to-second changes in children’s physiology and stress that may be underlying their observed behaviors. Neuroscientific evidence indicates that children’s development and deployment of RRS is strongly related to their levels of physiological arousal in response to stressful situations (Blair, 2010), but the vast majority of this work has been conducted in artificial, lab-based settings. Understanding how changes in arousal corresponds to children’s day-to-day RRS in real-world classroom settings is critical to creating the next generation of interventions and to accurately capturing the effects of the approaches available to us now. The overall aim of this project is to develop and validate a new set of tools that not only address these gaps in the scientific literature, but also contribute important information to practitioners and interventionists attempting to improve young children’s RRS.

Proposal to Establish a Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship (2017-2019)
Novak Djokovic Foundation

The aim of the Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship is to develop this next generation of academic change agents who will both contribute to advances in science and leverage those advances to inform, inspire, and mobilize key actors in the field of early childhood towards new solutions that yield breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity. As such, Djokovic Fellows will receive rigorous training in translational research, framing and communications, and science-based innovation. In addition, the Djokovic Fellows will be able to draw on the Center’s many resources to deepen their own scholarly interests and advance their scholarly pursuits. While the program experience will be tailored to each Fellow’s research interests and professional development and it will universally include: 1. Learning about the Center’s Translational Science Model (TSM) 2. Learning about the Center’s knowledge synthesis, translation, and communications work and strategies 3. Learning about the Center’s approach to science-based innovation in policy and practice systems

Creating a Global Partnership to Advance Science-Based Innovation and Learning through Play (2016-2019)
LEGO Foundation

Through deep engagement with the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (“the Center”), the LEGO Foundation can be at the forefront of the ECD field, supporting and learning from the Center’s cutting edge approach, which uses science to improve practice, evaluation and outcomes for young children and their families. At the same time, the Foundation will support the Center in developing play as a new area of focus that will center on the impact of play, whole child development and skills that are important for lifelong learning. This new focus will likely have important implications for the Foundation’s advocacy efforts in the ECD sector. At its heart, this is about the development and application of a rigorous, science-based framework for designing, testing, and evaluating new play-based strategies to improve child outcomes and achieve impact at scale. The partnership will pursue two main goals: (1) To increase the presence of play in the ECD sector; and (2) To improve ECD outcomes by linking practice and science. The work will both advance each organisation’s Theory of Change, and it will produce a combined impact greater than either organisation could have achieved alone. There is a current need within the early childhood sector to understand and use science in order to develop, test, and measure new approaches to learning through play. This project is well suited to contribute to this need by not only sharing the latest science regarding child development and play but also building the capacity of selected programs to refine, systematize, and scale the TSM model for sector-level influence world-wide. Together, The LEGO Foundation and the Center will enable pilot organizations to develop innovative science-based projects that are shareable and can catalyze further practice that builds 21st Century skills. The partnership aims at expanding and deepening understanding the role of play in development, particularly by understanding the link between play, coping and resilience and has the potential to broadly influence other initiatives within The Foundation. In particular, initiatives that focus on children and families experiencing high levels of stress will benefit from knowledge about the relationship between play and coping that can directly influence their work on the ground. Additionally, the partnership will both build and share evidence to explain the value of play with the LEGO Foundation Center on Creativity, Play and Learning, the ‘Play Futures Network’ and the broader community. In sharing knowledge either through the Center webpage, communication materials generated from the project, and speaking engagements with Jack Shonkoff and Center Staff, the partnership is also driving our advocacy message regarding the importance of play.

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