COURTESY ANNA JOHNSON Professor Anna Johnson received an award from the Society for Research in Child Development for her innovative research.
Professor Anna Johnson received an award from the Society for Research in Child Development for her innovative research.

Psychology professor Anna Johnson won an Early Career Research Contributions Award from the Society for Research in Child Development this month for her research on the impact of public policy on early childhood development.

The award is presented every two years to emerging scientists and scholars who have published notable research in the field of child development.

A ceremony honoring Johnson and the other four recipients of the award will be held in Philadelphia this March.

The SRCD is a professional society of researchers in childhood developmental psychology with 5,500 members from over 50 countries.

SRCD member and assistant professor in the department of psychology Rebecca Ryan praised Johnson for earning this award.

“This is such a prestigious award, incredibly competitive,” Ryan said. “It’s the highest honor for someone at her professional level in our field.”

Johnson’s research focuses on the intersection of public policy and childhood development. In particular, she studied the impact of the Child Care and Development Fund, a federal program offering childcare subsidies to low-income families, on childhood development.

“I study how public policy affects some areas of childhood development, not childhood development in and of itself,” Johnson said. “I was interested in how this program that affects so many kids actually serves the kids … because it wasn’t designed to help kids. It was designed so that mothers could go to work.”

Since Johnson published her research on the Child Care and Development Fund, her research has been cited in Senate hearings and was considered by policymakers in drafting and passing legislation.

In November 2014, President Obama signed legislation reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Fund for the first time since 1996.

“One of my articles found that the subsidy program gets you OK quality care but maybe not as good as it could,” Johnson said. “So they cited my research and said, ‘Look, we have evidence that subsidies can buy better quality care, but they don’t really go all the way to do as much as they could.’”

Johnson’s research suggested that the subsidy was ineffective given the size of the program.

“Since 2011 I’ve written two articles that say there aren’t really any benefits [of the subsidy] for kids learning, it’s not bad for them, it’s not good for them, it’s just kind of neutral,” Johnson said. “And the fact that it’s a ton of money and a ton of kids, so the fact that it’s neutral is kind of a waste. If we could make it better we should make it better.”

Johnson acknowledged that the political climate of the time is prime for her field of research.

“It’s a good time to be doing what I do because there’s a lot of interest in it right now publically,” Johnson said. “My particular goal is to do high-quality research that policy makers can use to make things better for kids.”

Psychology professor Deborah Phillips, who also studies the developmental impacts of governmental programs on childhood development, explained that Johnson is unique in her field because of her advanced training in both policy issues and developmental science.

“Anna represents a new breed of hybrid scholars who are exquisitely well trained as developmental scientists but also have deep knowledge of contemporary policy issues affecting children,” Phillips said. “Her ability to use the tools of developmental science to inform issues regarding child care and pre-K policy is unparalleled.”

Phillips also mentioned that past recipients of this award have typically continued to conduct breakthrough research throughout their careers to become some of the most prominent scientists in their fields.

“Historically, the young scholars who have won the SRCD dissertation award go on to fill the ranks of the rock stars in the field,” Phillips said. “Those who select the awardees have a track record of recognizing early promise.”

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