Child Development and Public Policy: Toward a Dynamic Systems Perspective



Little theoretical work exists that proposes general mechanisms for how public policies may influence child development. This article argues that dynamic systems theories may be useful in illuminating such processes, as well as highlighting gaps in current research at the intersection of public policy analysis and developmental science. A brief review of dynamic systems theories as they are currently utilized in other areas of developmental science is provided, as well as a statement of why they may help advance research in public policy and child development. Five principles of dynamic systems theories are presented and discussed using examples from research that address the question, “How do current antipoverty and welfare reform policies affect children?” Also presented are examples of hypotheses and research questions that each principle may generate for future work. The concluding section presents challenges that each principle poses for research methodology, and potential uses of the dynamic systems approach for developing and integrating policy and program initiatives.