Error message

You must have JavaScript and cookies enabled in your browser to flag content.

The Raising of America

Signature Hour

Embed Episode Preview: 

Add to toolkit

Remove from Toolkit

Embed Episode Preview: 

Add to toolkit

Remove from Toolkit

The U.S. is the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world. So why has our child well-being fallen to 26th? An alarming number of American children are following low developmental trajectories from the start. They enter adulthood with learning challenges, behavioral issues and even poor physical health.

But population health is not all that’s at risk, researchers argue. By under-investing in the vital years of early childhood we are also under-developing America.

The evidence confirms that providing all our children the opportunity for a strong start pays many dividends, not just for individuals but for the future prosperity, equity and well-being of the nation. What infants and toddlers need for a strong start is no mystery. A nurturing environment—safe, stable, and responsive—builds sturdy brain architecture, the foundation for future success in school and in life. The Raising of America interweaves discoveries from neuroscience with the stories of families and communities struggling to provide the nurturing environment all babies and young children need.

But too often parents find their efforts hindered by social and economic forces beyond their control: stagnant wages and job insecurity, lack of paid parental and family leave, childcare that is both poor quality and financially out of reach, racial stigma and social exclusion.

This growing squeeze for time, money and resources has made American middle-class life increasingly precarious. And when parents are squeezed, their children pay the price. A 20-year Wisconsin study shows that stressors on parents when their children are infants and toddlers increase the risk of those children growing up with a hyper-reactive fight-or-flight stress response. The personal and social costs? More emotional, behavior, substance abuse and learning problems later in life, even chronic disease.

Those suffering the most risks, however, are the one in four children born into poverty. Their parents confess feeling fearful and guilty they won’t be able provide what their children need in our fend-for-yourself society. Pediatrician Renée Boynton-Jarrett asks: Is this what we’ve decided as society, that this degree of tension, these complex trade-offs are the norm, to be expected, just a part of raising a child?

It doesn’t have to be this way. We all benefit when we as a society better assure the conditions all children need for a strong start and the opportunity to realize their potential. Pre-school teacher Aiyauna Terry, embracing her young students, puts the challenge this way: This is the future right here. Invest in them. Invest in their parents. If you want America to get back on top, invest in these children now. They’re not going to fail you, but we can’t fail them now. The fate of the nation may hang in the balance.

PARTICIPANTS – Individuals

Jeffrey Armstrong

Researcher, Life Stress and Human Development Lab, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Rasmus Birn

Principal Investigator, Birn Laboratory, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD

Pediatrician and Epidemiologist, Boston Medical Center

Ellen Bravo

Executive Director, Family Values @ Work Consortium

Cory Burghy

Postdoctoral Fellow in Developmental Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Major General Vincent Coglianese

Commanding General, Camp Pendleton (2011-2013), United States Marine Corps

Robert Dugger

Managing Partner, Hanover Provident Capital; Co-Founder, ReadyNation

Marilyn Essex

Director, Life Stress and Human Development Lab, University of Wisconsin-Madison

James Heckman

Nobel Laureate in Economics, 2000, University of Chicago

Judith L. Lichtman

Senior Advisor, National Partnership for Women & Families

john a. powell

Director, Haas Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society, University of California-Berkeley

Arthur Rolnick

Former Senior Vice President and Director of Research, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Jack P. Shonkoff, MD

Director, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University

Maria Teixeira

Director, Ellis Memorial Early Education Center

Aiyauna Terry

Preschool Teacher, Ellis Memorial Early Education Center

Edward Tronick

Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Boston; Harvard Medical School


  • Balderrama Marcos Family
  • Barikbin Family
  • Bruno Dowd Family
  • Burks-Cummings Campbell Family
  • Calixto Family
  • Chang Porter Family
  • Diaz-Linhart Family
  • Fruactoso Lopez Martinez Family
  • Holloway Family
  • McCabe Family
  • Moughan Family
  • Poulain Family
  • Pfeiffer Family
  • Rolon Family
  • Roy Family
  • Wright Family
  • Walker Family



Christine Herbes-Sommers


Charles Scott and Kristen Salerno

Supervising Producer

Wendy Riseborough

Associate Producer

Leigh Lanocha

Additional Directing

Llewellyn Smith

Consulting Producers

James Rutenbeck and Kelly Thomson

Creative Consultant

Bill Lattanzi

Original Music

Louis Weeks

Additional Music

P. Andrew Willis and Tom Phillips


Llewellyn Smith

Directors of Photography

Tom Fahey, Dakin Henderson and Steve McCarthy


Steve Bores and Clint Bramesco

Additional Photography

John Baynard, Allie Humenuk, John M. Kiffmeyer and Vasco Nunes

Additional Sound

Javier Briones and Steve Tejada


Albinson Design

Post Production Consultant

Eric Masunaga

Opening Titles

Free Range Studios / Eric Smith

Color Correction

Modulus Studios / Josh Foisey

Sound Design and Mix

Outpost / Jim Sullivan

Music by Louis Weeks Recorded At

Clean Cuts, Baltimore

Archival Research

Heather Merrill

Production Assistants

Stephen Hewitt, Lucia Nhamo, Nicole Poritzky, Amina Sutton, Jeremy Wolf and Nadav Zohar

Operations Manager

Steve Guy

Spanish Version Producer

Sabrina Avilés

Spanish Translations



Johanna Kasimow and Leslie Strain

Website Producer

Shannon K’doah Range

Website Production

Charlotte Von Hemert

Website Consultants

Jean Cheng and Cathy Fischer

Series Associate Producer and Director of Public Engagement

Rachel Poulain

Outreach Coordinator

Alisha Saville

Series Creator and Executive Producer

Larry Adelman


Archival Materials

  • ABCNEWS VideoSource
  • AP Images
  • Center for Economic and Policy Research
  • Child Development Services, United States Army
  • Children’s Investment Fund
  • CNN
  • C-SPAN
  • Getty Images
  • Jigsaw Productions
  • Lien Foundation/Economist Intelligence Unit
  • Lovett Productions
  • New America Foundation
  • The New Republic (© 4/15/2013)
  • The New York Times (© 7/27/2014)
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • Pond5
  • Society of Biological Psychiatry (2002) with permission from Elsevier
  • The Spokane Chronicle
  • The Telegraph of Nashua
  • T3Media
  • UNICEF Office of Research
  • The Wall Street Journal (© 2010 and Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
  • Wisconsin Study of Families and Work


  • Nancy Adler
  • Susan Bales
  • Bill Bentley
  • Jane Bertrand
  • Stephen Bezruchka
  • Paula Braveman
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
  • Debbie Chang
  • Steve Clermon
  • Janice Cooper
  • Stacy Cunningham
  • Lori Dorfman
  • Mario Drummonds
  • Troy Duster
  • Helen Epstein
  • Brent Ewig
  • Frank Farrow
  • Amy Fine
  • Lynette Fraga
  • Darlene Francis
  • Michael Fraser
  • Deborah Frazier
  • Neal Halfon
  • Piia Hanson
  • Clyde Hertzman
  • Richard Hofrichter
  • Tara James
  • Christine James-Brown
  • Caitlin Johnson
  • Michael Kiernan
  • Nancy Krieger
  • Jodie Levin-Epstein
  • Joan Lombardi
  • Michael Lu
  • Bertram Lubin
  • Bruce McEwen
  • Gwen McKinney
  • Matthew Melmed
  • Lisa Cylar Miller
  • Meredith Minkler
  • Faith Mitchell
  • Kris Perry
  • Michael Petit
  • Al Race
  • Dennis Raphael
  • Gillian Ray
  • John Rich
  • Joanna Shoffner Scott
  • Ann Segal
  • Esta Soler
  • S. Leonard Syme
  • Calondra Tibbs
  • Makani Themba
  • Lawrence Wallack
  • David R. Williams

Special Thanks

Special Thanks to the United States Department of Defense


And to the children, families, teachers and staff of:

  • Ellis Memorial, Boston, MA
  • Browne Child Development Center, Camp Pendleton
  • DeLuz Child Development Center, Camp Pendleton
  • Magnolia Place, Los Angeles, CA

Special Thanks to:

  • Jeanne Ayers
  • Jessie Benscome
  • Franziska Blome
  • Tom Boyce
  • Victor Carrion
  • Brendan Carroll
  • Center on the Developing Child
  • Wendy Chun-Hoon
  • James Comer
  • Lawrence Daressa
  • Richard J. Davidson
  • Joe DeFrancesco
  • Leo Delaney
  • Gina Digravio
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro
  • Victor Felitti
  • Joe Fenstermaker
  • Netsy Firestein
  • Suzanne Flint
  • Sandi Galvez
  • Amy Garrett
  • Betty Graffam
  • Cheryl Gray
  • Lila Guirguis
  • Megan Gunnar
  • Bill Hager
  • Brian Heller
  • Mary T. Henderson
  • Ryan Herringa
  • Jody Heymann
  • Hodge-Meuse Family
  • GySgt Sergio Jimenez
  • Kathy Johanson
  • Kathy Johnston
  • Mary Kaeding
  • Maria Langley
  • David Lawrence
  • Jodie Levin-Epstein
  • Alicia Lieberman
  • Kriste Lindemeyer
  • Aviva Lipkowitz
  • Carmela Lomonaco
  • Isabelle Longtin
  • Reshma Mahendra
  • Vicky Marchand
  • Jim Mayer
  • Marilyn Metzler
  • Jeremy Mines
  • Cornelius Moore
  • Alex Morales
  • Tina Morales
  • MotherWoman
  • MajGen Mike Myatt (ret.)
  • Sigrid Nicholas
  • Doug Orville
  • Robert Prentice
  • Doug Quade
  • Clare Reidy
  • Jessica Rivera
  • Daniel Robinson
  • Rowell Family
  • Ace Salisbury
  • Mary Kinsella Scannell
  • Mark Schuster
  • Vicki Shabo
  • Linda Smith
  • Nancy Stachell
  • Rep. Pete Stark
  • Steve Suomi
  • Barbara Thompson
  • Elizabeth Toulan
  • Kristen Valente
  • Martha Vibbert
  • Jane Waldfogel
  • Daniel Wolf
  • Yale Child Center


  • Boston Medical Center
  • Camp Pendleton Marine Base
  • Cape Air
  • Columbia University
  • Hyatt Regency Washington, D.C.
  • Massachusetts State House
  • UCSF/SFGH Department of Psychiatry
  • Stanford Medical Center
  • UMass Club
  • University of Chicago

For Twin Cities Public Television (TPT)

National Productions

  • Gerry Richman, Vice President
  • Fritz Bergmann, Senior Director
  • JoAnna Baldwin Mallory, Executive Producer

Minnesota Productions and Partnerships

Lucy Swift, Vice President

Presented by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT)

Distributed by American Public Television (APT)


Discussion Guide (PDF) Transcript (PDF) Full Synopsis (PDF)