Neal Halfon

Neal Halfon, MD, MPH is founding director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, and also directs the Child and Family Health Leadership and Training Program in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Dr. Halfon is professor of pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; health policy and management in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; and public policy in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

For more than two decades Dr. Halfon has been instrumental in advancing research, policy and systems innovations focused on the healthy development of children at local, national and international levels. The Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities has created a new interdisciplinary platform at UCLA to pursue trans-disciplinary research, provided a mechanism to launch significant community-based research, and has spearheaded service and training initiatives. 

As a major thought leader in children’s health policy and health systems change, Dr. Halfon has played a role in shaping US health policy and reform since the late 1990s.He played a critical part in conducting data and policy analysis that paved the way for the passage of the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 1997, and was also recruited by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to help design the original SCHIP evaluation. In 1999 he co-chaired the national consensus conference that was hosted by Association for Health Services Research (now Academy Health) to develop a national research agenda on improving the quality of child health care in the US.  In 2003, Dr. Halfon worked with former Vice President Gore (a visiting professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs from 2001)on  the creation and leadership of the Blue Sky Health Initiative (BSHI), a collaborative group of health policy researchers examining the potential for systemic reform in the American healthcare system. BSHI played a catalytic role in advancing emerging notions of population health and community accountable health systems. As a result of this work, Dr. Halfon was asked to participate in one of the White House briefings for health policy leaders that contributed to shaping the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Subsequent to the passage of the ACA, the BSHI group was actively involved in many of the ACA implementation issues. In December 2010 he was asked to participate in another health policy leadership meeting at the White House to discuss the administration’s plans for launching Accountable Care Organizations, in August of 2013 he was invited to the White House to discuss issues regarding health and inequality, and in December 2014 he was invited to participate in the White House “Invest in US” meeting focused on improving early childhood education and development.   

In addition to his contributions at the executive level, Dr. Halfon regularly works with local, state, and national policymakers to launch new initiatives, and continues to actively consult with states on a range of children’s policy initiatives including a series of briefings to the state commissioners of health, social welfare, and child protection in Connecticut in 2012.  He is currently co-leading an initiative to redesign California’s Children’s Services (CCS) for the California Department of Health Care Services. The CCS redesign aims to increase efficiency in the current health care delivery system and to improve access to services, quality of care, and health outcomes for children with special health care needs (CSHN). At the local level, he has provided policy and technical assistance to many communities attempting to redesign their early childhood service systems  

His leadership on local and state early childhood systems has led him to become involved with a number of place-based early childhood initiatives in the US, like First 5 in California and Brighter Futures in Connecticut, and similar efforts in the UK, Canada, and Australia. From 1996-2004, he directed the federally-funded National Center for Infancy and Early Childhood Health Policy and helped to design and launch the Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s state Early Childhood Comprehensive System grants that provided funding and guidance for state-level early childhood systems building efforts. He continues to actively work with the Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s effort to implement the national Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visitation program, providing consultation at the national level and directly with several states. 

Dr. Halfon currently directs the W.K. Kellogg-funded Transforming Early Childhood Community Systems(TECCS) Initiative that is working with more than 50 communities across the US to help them launch data- informed innovations that improve early childhood development and school readiness. The TECCS communities are partnering with different local, state and national efforts from Project Launch to Strive to elevate the visibility of early childhood outcomes, and to focus more attention on cross-sector approaches to achieving lasting gains. Dr. Halfon’s research has revealed that simple models of community development cannot account for the complex reality that living, evolving communities undergo and experience. In January of 2015, leveraging successful cross-sector strategies using TECCS data and approaches, Dr. Halfon convened policymakers, foundations, and local leaders in a national symposium, hosted by the Urban Institute where he is an affiliated scholar, to set the agenda for cross-sector alignment to improve human capital. 

In addition to his leadership in health policy, systems reform, and place-based early childhood efforts, Dr. Halfon has spearheaded conceptual models and measurement frameworks of health development, shaped the national research agenda on children’s health, and catalyzed collaborative health systems change efforts. The Life Course Health Development model he created has been used to inform new approaches to health promotion, disease prevention, and developmental optimization; and was adopted by the federal MCH Bureau in 2010 as a key organizing focus for its 10 year strategic plan, giving rise to several new initiatives there, including the Life Course Research Network (LCRN), launched in 2010. Dr. Halfon’s work on the LCRN has included development of a national research agenda, including the research agenda-setting meeting that the LCRN convened in the spring 2013, and supported advancement of research focused on life course health development. Similarly, the MCH Measurement Research Network (MCH-MRN), which he co-directs with Professor Christina Bethell from Johns Hopkins University, works to develop a national research agenda and improving MCH measures and measurement systems. Dr. Halfon also helped spearhead the National Children’s Study Health Measurement Network (NCS-HMN) to assist NCS to develop new and improve life course health science informed measures. Dr. Halfon has presented his life course health inspired notions of health system transformation at national and international forums including the Aspen Institutes Child Health Forum, NICHD’s 50th anniversary science colloquium, and key notes at several international meetings.  

Dr. Halfon has also developed the 3.0 Health System Transformation Framework (3.0TF), another conceptual effort to understand the drivers of health system change and to determine strategies to transform the current health system into one that is more effective at optimizing the health of the entire population, reducing health care expenditures, and reducing health disparities. The 3.0TF was adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) in 2011, as an explanatory model to help frame their efforts to support and catalyze innovation. The 3.0 TF is now being used by several states as they formulate CMS-sponsored innovation strategies (as part of the CMS/CMMI State Innovation Models (SIM) initiative). 

Advancing ideas of 3.0 transformations, Dr. Halfon has spearheaded a major national collaborative effort, the Child Health System Transformation Initiative (CHSTI), to utilize the implementation of the ACA as a way to catalyze more widespread improvement in child health and health care systems. CHSTI has recently launched the Moving Health Care Upstream (MHCU) initiative, an ambitious project funded by the Kresge Foundation, designed to help health care providers, health systems and communities address those social and behavioral factors that determine many health outcomes. The MHCU initiative is beginning to establish collaborative improvement and innovation networks (COIINs) to provide a structure for ensuring health system cohesion and to support ongoing collaborative innovation. 

Dr. Halfon’s life course health development theoretical model and the 3.0 health system transformation framework have positioned his work at the interface of health, health care, population health, and community health and community development. Dr. Halfon has consequently explored the role complex systems science can play in modeling and simulating different kinds of health system improvement and changes. Dr. Halfon presented his ideas around life course health development and health system transformation at a national meeting convened by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Federal Reserve, and was invited to serve as a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to work with them on a new initiative focused on complexity and community systems and another initiative on social and health impact financing innovations. This also resulted his giving the key note address at the Health Impact Financing conference that the Fed cosponsored with SOCAP in 2013. 

Dr. Halfon has served as an advisor and consultant to several foundations, committees and children’s advocacy efforts. He also has served as advisor to the Next Generation’s Too Small to Fail Campaign and as visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank where he worked with Fed researchers to advance their thinking about the intersection of community economic development, early childhood development and the complexity of community systems change. Dr. Halfon also served as a member of the Board on Children, Youth and Families of the National Research Council (NRC) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) from 2001-2006, and also served on the IOM/NRC Committee on Child Health to evaluate how children’s health should be measured in the US, for which he also contributed to the volume, Children’s Health, the Nation’s Wealth. Dr. Halfon has been involved with the National Children’s Study (NCS) in several capacities including as a special advisor, steering committee member, director of the NCS Health Measurement Network and principal investigator for the Los Angeles County Study Center. In 1999 he co-chaired the Association for Health Services Research's agenda-setting conference, Improving the Quality of Health Care for Children, which generated the research agenda that was included in the legislation re-authorizing the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2000. In 2006, the Academic Pediatric Association awarded Dr. Halfon its annual Research Award in recognition of his lifetime achievement in the field of child health research.  

Beginning in 1998, Dr. Halfon constituted and led a collaborative team that included representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Center for Health Statistics, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and CDC's National Immunization Program to develop, design, launch, and analyze the 2000 National Survey of Children's Health (NSECH). The NSECH is the first national survey focused exclusively on the health, health care, and health promoting behaviors that young children in the US experience. The NSECH served as the prototype for the National Survey of Children’s Health.  . He also has served on the Pediatric Measurement Advisory Panel for the National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA); Foundation for Accountability (FACCT) (1999-2002); Committee on Child Health Financing for the American Academy of Pediatrics (1993-1998); and on expert panels for the National Commission on Children (1991); MCHB's Bright Futures project; Agency for Health Care Policy and Research Panel on Child Health Services Research; Bureau of Health Professions' Panel on Primary Care; and Carnegie Commission on Early Childhood. 

Dr. Halfon’s teaching focus over the past several years has included innovative training programs and the integration of these training programs into a new health professional training pathway.  The Child and Family Health Program he directs provides a unique policy and service system delivery focus, grounded in community-based experience for health professionals in pediatrics, OBGYN, dentistry, nutrition, and social work. He plans to develop two new courses over the next year: one focused on life course health development and the other on health system innovation and transformation. In 1998, Dr. Halfon was asked by Vice President Gore to lead a national consortium of universities in an effort to develop curriculum on Family Centered Community Building. This lead to a national conference hosted at UCLA that included leadership teams from 15 universities. In 2001 former Vice President Gore joined the Luskin School of Public Affairs as visiting faculty member and worked with Dr. Halfon and Professors Arleen Leibowitz, Mark Peterson and Frank Gilliam to teach a course on Family Centered Community Building at UCLA, and at Fisk University in Nashville and Middle Tennessee University in Murfreesboro Tennessee.  

Dr. Halfon's primary research interests include the specific social, environmental, behavioral and biological determinants of children’s health and development over the life course, comprehensive early childhood systems, complexity science and health systems change, improvement science, collaborative innovation, access to care for low-income children, and delivery of health services to children with special health care needs, with a particular interest in abused and neglected children in the foster care system. A selected list of research publications, editorials, commentaries and op eds are provided below.  

Awards and Honors

  • Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, University of California, San Diego & Berkeley
  • Annual Research Award, Life Time Contribution to Child Health Research, Academic Pediatric Association

Areas of Interest

Child health, development and wellbeing, life course health development, Health System Transformation, Place based systems intervention for vulnerable populations, Measurement of health equity at population and community level.

Selected Publications