Professor Dave Riley, HDFS

Dave Riley

Professor Emeritus
Human Development and Family Studies

Government isn’t responsible for raising children, parents are. But some communities make it a lot easier to raise children well than do others.

From as early as the preschool years, we can predict much about children’s future lives: their school success or failure, their stable or unsettled marital and work histories, their drug abuse or home ownership, their physical, mental, and financial health in middle-age. If we make small changes in a child’s early years, those changes can add up to big differences in adulthood. It is no wonder, then, that public investments in children’s early years are among the most cost-effective programs of government, saving the taxpayer much more than they cost. My work has been directed at testing and promoting early interventions to help parents do their best in raising their children, helping child care programs improve their quality, and helping community / government leaders understand the costs and benefits of community supports for parents and early childhood programs.

This work has been recognized by the highest award of the American Psychological Association, the Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Public Interest. My students helped with this work (I supervised the completion of 20 M.S. or Ph.D. degrees), and those students are now professors or program directors across the U.S. and in 3 other countries.

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Cochran, M. M., Larner, M., Riley, D., Henderson, C. R. Jr., & Gunnarrson, L. (1990). Extending        families: The social networks of parents and their children. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge          University Press.

Riley, D., San Juan, R.R., Klinkner, J., Ramminger, A., with Carns, M., Burns, K., Roach, M.A., &         Clark   Erickson, C. (2008). Social and emotional development: Connecting science and      practice in early childhood settings. Co-published by Redleaf Press (St. Paul, MN) and the       National Association for the Education of Young Children (Washington D.C.).

Riley, D., Carns, M., Ramminger, A Klinkner, J., and Sisco, C., with Burns, K., Roach, M.A., Clark-      Erickson, C., & San Juan, R.R. (2009). Intellectual development: Connecting science            and practice in early childhood settings. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Nitzke, S., Riley, D. Ramminger, A., & Jacobs, G. (2010). Rethinking Nutrition: Connecting            science and practice in early childhood settings. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.


Research Reports.

Ostergren, C., & Riley, D. (2012). Testing age-paced parenting newsletters up to age 3: Greater impact             on first time parents.   Journal of Extension, 50(1), article no. 1FEA9, 1-10.

Ostergren, C., Riley, D., & Wehmeier, J. (2011). ‘Better Kid Care’ program improves the           quality of child care: Results of an interview study. Journal of Extension, 49(6),           article no. 6FEA10, 1-8.

Roach, M.A., Kim, Y., & Riley, D. (2006). Once attained, can quality child care be maintained? Early Education and Development, 17, 553-570.

Riley, D., & Bogenschneider, K. (2006). Do we know what good parenting is? Can public policy promote it? Chapter in K. Bogenschneider (Ed.), Family policy matters: How policymaking affects families, 2nd Edition (67-84). Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.

Riley, D., & Roach, M. (2006). Helping teachers grow: Toward theory and practice of an ‘emergent curriculum’ model of staff development. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33, 363-370.

Riley, D., Roach, M.A., Adams, D., & Edie, D. (2005). From research to policy: In search of an affordable statewide rating system for quality of child care programs. Early Education and Development, 16, 493504.

Klinkner, J., Riley, D., & Roach, M.A. (2005). Organizational climate as a tool for child care staff retention. Young Children, 60(6), 90-95.

Roach, M.A., Riley, D.A., Adams, D., & Edie, D. (2005). Evaluation of a state initiative to improve child care quality. Early Education & Development, 16, 69-84.

Riley, D., & Steinberg, J. (2004). Four popular myths about children in self-care: With implications for family life educators. Family Relations, 53, 95-101.

Hamilton, M., Roach, M., & Riley, D. (2003). Moving toward family-centered early care and education: Past, present, and a glimpse of the future. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30, 225-232.

Riley, D. (2003). Steps toward a Reflective Practice model of teacher development. Child Care Information Exchange, Serial No. 153, 14-19. Reprinted in R. Neugebauer (Ed.). (2007). Developing capable, creative teachers. Seattle: Exchange Press.

Hamilton, M., Roach, M., & Riley, D. (2003). Families as partners in centers for excellence. Child Care Information Exchange, Serial No. 151, 14-18.

Walker, S., & Riley, D. (2001). Involvement of the personal social network as a factor in parent education effectiveness.   Journal of Family Relations, 50, 186-193.

Riley, D. (1997). Using local research to change 100 communities for children and families. American Psychologist, 52, 424-433.

Riley, D., Meinhardt, G., Nelson, C., Salisbury, M., & Winnett, T. (1991). How effective are age-paced newsletters for new parents? A replication and extension of earlier studies. Family Relations , 40, 247-253.

Small, S. A., & Riley, D. (1990). Toward a multidimensional assessment of work spillover into family life. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 52(1), 51-61.

Riley, D. (1990). Network influences on father involvement in childrearing. In M. Cochran, L. Larner, D. Riley, C. R. Henderson, Jr., & L. Gunnarsson (Eds.), Extending families: The social networks of parents and their children (pp. 131-153). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cochran, M., & Riley D. (1990). The social networks of six-year-olds: Context, content, and consequence. In M. Cochran, L. Larner, D. Riley, C. R. Henderson, Jr., & L. Gunnarsson (Eds.), Extending families: The social networks of parents and their children (pp. 154-177). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cochran, M., & Riley, D. (1988). Mother reports of children’s personal networks: Antecedents, concomitants and consequences. In Salzinger, S., Antrobus, J., & Hammer, M. (Eds.), The social networks of children, adolescents, and college students (pp. 113-147). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Riley, D., & Cochran, M. (1987). Children’s relationships with non-parental adults: Sex specific connections to early school success. Sex Roles, 17, 637-655.

Riley, D., & Eckenrode, J. (1986). Social ties: Subgroup differences in costs and benefits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(4), 770-778.

Riley, D., & Cochran, M. (1985). Naturally occurring childrearing advice for fathers: Utilization of the personal social network. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 47, 275-286.


Publications for the Public

Parenting the First Year:

Parenting the 2nd & 3rd Years:

Parenting Future Readers:

Child Care Policy Research:

Co-Parenting after Divorce:


El Primer ano del Bebe:

El Segundo y Tercer Ano del Nino:

Preparacion para ser Padres:

La Crianza de los Futuros Lectores:


Parenting. Since 1990, my Parenting the First Year instructional newsletter series has reached over one-third of new parents in Wisconsin, and many more parents in 15 other states and 2 countries. Today, over one-tenth of Wisconsin citizens have been raised by parents who received this series. And it works. A large-scale experiment in Wisconsin, and a clinical trial in England, both found that parents receiving the series had more helpful beliefs about parenting and more competent parenting with their children, as compared to equivalent parents who did not receive the series. This monthly series of newsletters is available free at

Child Care Supply. In response to increasing numbers of school-aged children lacking adult supervision during out-of-school time (“latchkey children”), I collaborated with almost 100 Wisconsin communities to conduct their own local research on children and parental employment, and then helped them consider their options for response. The response included one business start or expansion every two weeks (on average), for a period of almost 4 years, arguably making this project the most successful economic development initiative of state government for those years. A total of 92 new after-school child care businesses were documented, all of them fee-based (not tax based), and all of them making parental employment possible.

Child Care Quality. My team led a statewide demonstration project, beginning in 1999, that provided a program of technical assistance to 28 large child care programs serving the state’s poorest families. Our second team conducted a treatment-comparison group experiment to test the effectiveness of our program, finding that state government truly does have the ability to quickly and significantly raise the quality of child care, in ways that should raise the school and life outcomes of the children. The project also led to our publication of 3 textbooks for the training of early childhood professionals, one of which was selected for nation-wide distribution to the members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Access to reports on this project are available at

State Policy. My team also proposed the development of a second new policy of state government, a 5-star rating system for the quality of child care programs. We began promoting this kind of consumer-choice system of quality improvement for Wisconsin child care in the 1990’s. In 2005 we published a paper demonstrating its feasibility for Wisconsin, using existing institutional data of state government. We also delivered a series of presentations to state government leaders on the options for such a program. The system was finally passed into law and launched in 2011, and the state’s data show that better-informed consumers are already driving the state’s child care programs to improve their quality. Our public policy papers are available at

Besides my students and many county Extension agents, my main collaborators and co-investigators for this work were Mary Roach, David Edie, Diane Adams, Dori Schattel, Jill Steinberg, Susan Walker, and Carol Ostergren.