Nancy Dowd

How does every child gain an equal opportunity to develop to his or her fullest potential? According to Anita Zucker Center partner Nancy E. Dowd, professor and David H. Levin Chair in Family Law, equality starts in early childhood.

As a 2017 UF Distinguished Fulbright Chair, Dowd dedicated her research and writing during the Fulbright year to completing the manuscript for her new book, “Reimagining Equality.” The book tackles the challenges and barriers to fulfilling the developmental potential of every child. Dowd exposes the role of the government in creating and sustaining inequality, particularly among African-American children, and discusses its responsibility to give every child a fair chance.

“In every country I’ve looked at, there are hierarchies among children, present from birth,” Dowd says. “Early childhood is one place where those hierarchies are reinforced, so by the time children get to preschool or school, they’re in unequal places. This is not because of a lack of capacity, but because of a lack of supports.”

After years of studying juvenile justice and concluding that the odds are stacked against minority children, Dowd began to focus in particular on factors that affect the entry of Black boys into that system, and identified other disparities as well, far earlier in life. Applying a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to her research, Dowd examines the life course of Black boys from birth to age 18. She concludes that Black boys are met with challenges and barriers that disproportionately funnel them toward failure. Their example exposes a broader reality of hierarchies among children, linked to policies and practices of government structures and institutions.

Dowd also examines the concept of development and how it has been used within law. She argues for a model of developmental equality grounded in the context of the realities of development and the current hierarchies among children on the basis of race, gender and class.


  • Emeritus Director for the UF College of Law, Center on Children & Families
  • 2017 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Public International Law at Lund University, Sweden, and associated with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
  • 2017 Planning Committee Member for the UF Early Childhood Summit, Starting Ahead, Staying Ahead

Armed with this developmental equality perspective, she explores various strategies to ensure that every child will have a fair chance. Her most ambitious strategy is a “New Deal” for children: a comprehensive set of policies to ensure equality, changing the role of government and public policy from that which reinforces and replicates inequalities to one that is responsive to all children.

“Developmental equality is an essential equality, essential to a fair chance for every child,” Dowd says. “We aren’t living in the land of equality, but the land of inequality. We need to keep those hierarchies in sight and aim to eliminate them, if we are to give everyone a fair chance.”

NYU Press is scheduled to publish “Reimagining Equality” in 2018.