Family Science Report: There’s Never Been a Better Time to Get to Know Your Legislators

Jennifer Crosswhite, Ph.D., CFLE, Director of Research and Policy Education
/ Spring 2019 NCFR Report

See all articles from this issue 

According to the Brookings Institution, the freshmen class of the 116th United States Congress has the least amount of prior political experience in history, following a trend that began with the 114th Congress. Further, many legislators from the previous Congress will not return. A record number of House Republicans retired, and many other lawmakers were appointed or elected to another office, defeated in the general election, or simply resigned, as tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics’ “casualty list.” All of this leads to an increase in inexperienced legislators in Congress.

The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has referred to this wave of inexperienced policymakers as a “looming knowledge gap” that has the potential to turn any constituent meetings on a topic of issue advocacy into a meeting on issue education (Lusk, 2018).

This presents an incredible opportunity for family scholars and practitioners to be the ones providing that education to incoming freshmen and incumbents as they create and decide on new legislation that has an impact on family. NCFR members are extremely well positioned to be the ones to lead and inform members of Congress on the importance of Family Science, thanks to their knowledge and experience in this discipline. NCFR members also have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips thanks to the many resources available at NCFR’s website, especially our growing collection of resource and policy briefs, with new editions slated for 2019 (more on that below).

Despite their lack of political experience, Congress’s new class is record setting in another, more beneficial way: Its members are among the highest-educated freshman classes on record, second only to the 115th Congress (Burgat & Hunt, 2018). Overall, the 116th Congress is the most educated in history, with 72% of House representatives having earned a graduate degree in fields as varied as law, medicine, and science. A record 102 women were sworn into the House of Representatives in 2019, comprising 23.4% of the chamber (DeSilver, 2018), another way that this class is set apart from previous ones.

Now more than ever, it’s important for NCFR members to make connections with Washington, DC, on issues related to Family Science research. An easy way to begin is by writing a letter to your representatives on family policies related to your area of expertise. You can find my recent column with best practices on writing letters to Congress at this link:

However, I encourage you to go one step further and look for ways to build a closer relationship with your members of Congress and develop a reputation with them as an expert on family research. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with them or attend a listening session or town-hall meeting. Alternatively, many policy experts suggest a low-key approach and developing a relationship with your legislator before providing research or policy recommendations (Bogenschneider & Corbett, 2010). For example, you can invite a legislator to speak in your class, participate in panels or seminars, or attend other events on family research topics.

For more specific advice, please see my previous column on working with legislators at


An Update on NCFR Research and Policy Briefs

I am happy to report that we have a number of research and policy briefs in various stages of production. Since taking over as the brief editor in July, Elaine A. Anderson, Ph.D., has been working with authors to complete briefs that were in progress, commence writing new briefs, and solicit ideas for new briefs. Some of the brief topics moving forward address research and policy issues related to childhood obesity, immigration challenges across the life cycle, farm-family stress and suicide, the needs and challenges of military families, the relationship between gun violence and mental health, child protective services reform, and responsible fatherhood initiatives. There are several other brief topics in various stages of discussion and finalization.

We will move forward with several brief topics that members identified in a previous survey as important for our discussion. We also received suggested topics for our consideration from members, and several topics presented at the 2018 NCFR Annual Conference elicited additional ideas for a brief development. Thank you for your interest and participation as we continue to expand the development of our brief offerings.

Dr. Anderson will be contacting members for assistance in reviewing briefs or writing a brief on a topic for which they are an expert. If you have ideas that you would like the brief series to consider, or if you have a brief you would like to write for a review, please contact Dr. Anderson at [email protected].

Dr. Anderson shared the following assessment of our research and policy brief activities: “I am quite pleased with the interest in our brief initiative and the range of topics that have been suggested and are being developed on current challenges facing families. I hope as our brief publications become more regular, ideas for additional briefs will come to your mind and you will offer to become engaged in the development of these briefs. It is important that our research voices be heard and the impact of our research is visible for the development of policy. I look forward to working with many more of you in the future.”



Bogenschneider, K., & Corbett, T. J. (2010). Evidence-based policymaking. New York, NY: Routledge.

Burgat, C., & Hunt, C. (2018). Congress in 2019: The 2nd most educated and least politically experienced House freshman class. Retrieved from

Center for Responsive Politics. (2018). 115th Congress casualty list. Retrieved from

DeSilver, D. (2018). A record number of women will be serving in the new Congress. Retrieved from

Lusk, D. (2018). Could advocacy solve the looming knowledge gap in Congress? Retrieved from