Project Origins

The Raising of America grew directly out of California Newsreel’s critically acclaimed four-hour PBS series UNNATURAL CAUSES: Is Inequality Making Us Sick, which explores the root causes of our alarming class and racial inequities in health. The series won Best Science Film/Radio/TV program of 2009 by the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences and a duPont–Columbia Award (considered the Pulitzer Prize of broadcast journalism by many), among other prestigious honors.

UNNATURAL CAUSES was shown in more than 25,000 community dialogues, policy forums, trainings, classrooms, town hall meetings and other venues in the initial 18 months following its release and PBS broadcast as a tool to promote dialogue and action toward health equity.

During those conversations we learned about the growing scientific evidence that experiences in the first years of life build the foundation for life-long socio-emotional, intellectual physical health and development. Many users of UNNATURAL CAUSES urged us in surveys, conversations and emails that our next project scrutinize the early years, especially the “social ecology,” or web of relations and policies and economic and racial arrangements, which influence the capacities of parents, caregivers and communities to provide the nurturing environments all children need for a strong start. The early years are a time when public policy interventions and grassroots efforts can have long-lasting benefits and many experts link investments in maternal health and early child development as critical to building a healthier, safer, happier, more equitable and more prosperous nation.

We conducted an elaborate Needs Assessment prior to production which indicated that the studies are many, they are strong and they are persuasive. Yet little or no popular media have translated these scientific findings into a compelling new narrative capable of changing the way parents, practitioners, policy makers and the public think about society’s responsibilities and interest in these first crucial years. The conventional default explanations of child development—“good” vs. “bad” parents, genetics and cultural dysfunction—still predominate. Perhaps not coincidentally, little progress has been made in improving outcomes for America’s children.

We need a new story, leaders in the field told us, a story that helps translates the science into popular terms, a story that ruptures the "family bubble" discourse and widens the lens from the individual child and family to the larger social ecology that structures opportunities for healthy child development, a story that connects early child development to America’s future health and prosperity. Most of all, they told us, we need a story that impels a sense of urgency and engages the public imagination for bold, transformational changes which can make a nurturing childhood ecology the birthright of every child in America, perhaps the most prudent investment any nation can make.

Read more about the origins of The Raising of America in our Needs Assessment.

Strategic Partners


We are deeply grateful to the wise counsel and assistance given by so many during this project’s gestation, especially The Raising of America Brain Trust who generously gave their time and kept us from running off the tracks too often to count. The shortcomings in the series are despite their efforts, not because of them, and are the responsibility of California Newsreel alone.

Debbie Chang
Vice President, Policy & Prevention

Steven Clermont
Director of Research and Policy
Every Child Matters Education Fund

Mario Drummonds
Northern Manhattan Perinatal Alliance

Brent Ewig
Dir. of Policy and Government Affairs
Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs

Frank Farrow
Center for Study of Social Policy

Amy Fine
Senior Fellow
Center for Study of Social Policy

Dr. Lynette M. ­­­Fraga
Executive Director
Child Care Aware of America

Michael Fraser
Former Executive Director
Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs

Deborah Frazier
Executive Director
National Healthy Start Association

Tara T. James
Dir. of Policy and External Relations
National Human Services Assembly

Christine James-Brown
Child Welfare League of America

Caitlin Johnson
Managing Editor
SparkAction, Forum for Youth Investment

Mike Kiernan
Director of Communications
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

Jodie Levin-Epstein
Deputy Director
Center for Law and Social Policy

Joan Lombardi
Former Deputy Asst. Secretary 
Administration for Children and Families

Gwen McKinney
McKinney & Associates

Matthew Melmed
Executive Director
Zero to Three

Faith Mitchell
President and CEO
Grantmakers in Health

Kris Perry
Executive Director
First Five Years Fund

Michael Petit
Every Child Matters Education Fund

Al Race
Director of Communications
Harvard Center on the Developing Child

Gillian Ray
Vice President, External Relations
Children’s Hospital Association

Miriam Rollin
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

Ann Segal

Vicki Shabo
Vice President
National Partnership for Women and Families

Joanna Shoffner Scott
Race Matters Institute

Esta Soler
Futures Without Violence

Makani Themba-Nixon
Executive Director
The Praxis Project