Center for the Study of Social Policy - 40 Years of Innovation
Ideas Into Action
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Established in 1978 as part of the University of Chicago, CSSP’s primary goal was to influence public policy affecting poor children and families, the elderly and the disabled. Founder Tom Joe, blind from early childhood, was a staunch advocate for federal and state policies that leveled the playing field for the disenfranchised and addressed the injustices that affected people’s lives. He envisioned CSSP as a place where policy analysis would reflect real-world knowledge of the intricacies of public sector governance and finance.

That concept was further realized by the academic rigor and commitment to nurturing the skills of young people that co-founder Harold Richman brought to CSSP. The former dean of the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and founder of Chapin Hall Center for Children joined Joe to launch CSSP as an organization committed to developing and recommending innovative policy solutions. Their vision was rooted in impatience with the status quo but realism about implementation. Above all, their idea of what CSSP was, and is, was based on a solid understanding of what families and communities actually experience and need. 

Over the Years

CSSP’s initial emphasis was on federal policy, including welfare reform, tax credits for low-income families, long-term care for the elderly and health care. As the work evolved in the 1980’s and 1990’s, greater responsibility for addressing social problems devolved to state and local governments. CSSP responded by increasing its direct technical assistance to state, county and city agencies and leaders. CSSP was a pioneer in advocating for family preservation services to keep children safe in their own homes; for a results-focus in education reform and cross-sector human services; for community-based decision-making in health and human services and for data-based advocacy.    

Since 2000, CSSP has increased its focus on neighborhood-level change supported by state-level policy and finance. The past decade has produced first-hand experience and reflections about community change and comprehensive place-based solutions. CSSP helped cities and neighborhoods implement “two-generation” approaches to attacking poverty and changing children’s futures.

Looking Ahead

Moving forward, CSSP is guided by a unifying framework of child, family and community well-being. It continues to test ideas that lead to productive change and fulfilling its mission: creating new ideas and promoting public policies that produce equal opportunities and better futures for all children and families, especially those most often left behind.


1978:  Developed early recommendations for home and community-based long-term care programs for the elderly and disabled. Also focused on how to finance cost-effective strategies through Medicaid and other Social Security Act programs. In 1981, the recommendations were published as Policy Options for Long-Term Care.

1981:  Documented interagency special education “best practices” as a way to expand cost-efficient state and local educational opportunities for children with special needs.

1987:  Developed the national KIDS COUNT initiative, a state-by-state report on child well-being. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, CSSP published three editions of the KIDS COUNT book and funded the first state KIDS COUNT grantees. CSSP transferred the initiative to the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the early 1990s so that it could be institutionalized as a national infrastructure for data-based advocacy for children.

1987-1993:  Coordinated a network of states using intensive family preservation programs to prevent unnecessary placement of children into foster care, with support from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. This movement helped lead to the federal Preservation and Support Services Program Act of 1993.

1994:  Partnered with the state of Missouri and Children’s Rights, to develop and test a new approach to class action litigation, resolving problems through a less adversarial process. The process resulted in Jackson County, MO exiting from a 23-year class action consent decree. Success of this early work has led to similar efforts by CSSP in many other states.

1995:  Created the tools for a results-based framework to improve outcomes for educational success for children and families. Also helped a network of state and local education and human services agencies coordinate to achieve integration of health, education and human service outcomes.

1994 - 2001:  Convened a network of states investing in community decision-making to improve outcomes for children and families. Later, with state and local partners, prepared a set of learning guides on local governance and community decision-making which created a structured way for community leaders to work across agency lines to improve results.

1997:  Developed the Community Partnership for Protecting Children Initiative with support from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. This multi-year, multi-site work laid the groundwork for national efforts that better link protective services with community and neighborhood-based efforts to support families and prevent child maltreatment.

1999-2010:  Assisted the Annie E. Casey Foundation to create the technical assistance strategy for its place-based Making Connections initiative. Peer technical assistance and demand-driven techniques were key components of CSSP’s Technical Assistance Resource Center. CSSP continued to assist the foundation in the organization and management of this initiative, focusing on technical assistance linked to achieving desired results.

2006:  Launched the Strengthening Families Initiative with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as a strategy and national network to prevent child abuse and neglect by helping early care and education programs to assist families develop “protective factors” which contribute to child safety and well-being.

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