When it Comes to Eliminating Poverty, Two is Better than One

Two-generation approach is gaining momentum and impact

For decades, programs looking to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty have focused on delivering services and providing resources to children and families in need. Makes sense, right? But what if the most promising solution to ending poverty for a family comes from the family itself?  

There is a growing movement in Massachusetts and across the country that is focused not only on providing children and families with services like high-quality child care or job training, but also on empowering parents with the education, know-how and opportunities to foster their own upward mobility and the educational success of their children. When paired with intentional tracking of the outcomes of both generations, this new two-generation (2Gen) approach is very promising.

“Harnessing parents’ motivation on behalf of their children, placing programs for parents and children in the same spaces and encouraging parents to work together to solve problems are all key elements of successful two-generation approaches,” said Karley Ausiello, Senior Vice President for Community Impact at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.

Thriving Together

“Parents are far more important to their children’s success than we are, and therefore we need to focus on them as first teacher, advocate, and breadwinner,” says Wayne Ysaguirre, who served for 10 years as President and CEO at Nurtury in Boston. Ysaguirre spoke at a recent 2Gen forum convened by United Way and the Jeremiah Program to educate providers and policy-makers about the landscape of two-generation approaches, strategies and programs in Massachusetts.

National experts agree. Elaine Zimmerman, Region One Administrator for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, also spoke at the 2Gen forum, noting “Two-Generational approaches ask the core question: What does a family (parent and child) need for wellbeing, learning, and meaningful work success? For example, the number one indicator of child literacy is the mother’s literacy level. So why do we just work with the child?”

The two-generation approach helps children and families get education and workforce training, social supports like parenting skills, and health care they need to create a legacy of economic stability and overall well-being that passes from one generation to the next.

Takiia, a current participant at Jeremiah Program in Boston, says “Before Jeremiah, I was working part-time and my son wasn’t in daycare. I had no motivation to do anything. Being in Jeremiah Program has allowed me to look at my life in a different perspective. It helped me realize I could be so much more, that I could become something and show my son that anything is possible.”

The Jeremiah Program describes the work this way: “A 2Gen approach simultaneously address the well-being and school readiness of the child and the workforce success and well-being of the parent, while also tracking outcomes for both simultaneously and looking at the whole family unit when designing programs. This includes strategies such as making sure child care needs are met during non-traditional work hours, or providing parents with coaching on child development and parenting skills.”

According to The Aspen Institute’s Ascend Network, “even a relatively small increase in household income can have lasting, positive impact on the life of a child.” For example, a $3,000 difference in parents’ income when their child is young is associated with a 17 percent increase in the child’s future earnings.

The impact on families served by the Jeremiah Program, which operates in Boston as well as in Austin, Fargo, Minneapolis, New York and Rochester, is impressive: 77 percent of graduates from the past five years significantly decreased their reliance on public assistance, and their most recent graduates increased their earnings by 66 percent . At the same time, 88 percent of the children enrolled in Jeremiah Program child development centers are performing above age-appropriate developmental benchmarks.

Investing in Our Future

For the first time, United Way awarded grants this year to partner agencies implementing a two-generational approach to improving school readiness outcomes for young children. United Way awarded $717,000 to 24 strategic partners in the region, including two new partners: Horizons for Homeless Children and Jeremiah Program Boston.

The Family Partnerships Program at Horizons for Homeless Children works with each family to help them develop goals and a plan to achieve those goals, and assists them in accessing resources, including education, job training other services. They also support families in securing kindergarten placements..

UTEC recently opened its new 2Gen Center in Lowell, a state-licensed early childhood education center that directly supports the children of UTEC’s young parents while providing two-generation services, like parenting and family engagement for the whole family. More than one-third of UTEC’s impact young adults are also young parents.  

Other partners United Way is funding in this focus area include Catholic Charities of Boston, College Bound Dorchester, Community TeamWork in Lowell, Family & Children’s Services of Greater Lynn, Family Nurturing Center, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Nurtury, Quincy Community Action Programs, Roca, South Shore Stars, and The Upper Room, among others.  

United Way has also joined with EMPath and UTEC to lead efforts to advocate to include language in the Fiscal year 2019 state budget that would establish a special commission on two-generation approaches to study and make recommendations on implementing two-generational strategies in Massachusetts. The proposal is currently under consideration by the Legislative conference committee that is reconciling the House and Senate budget proposals.

Read how Rise, a local program in Lynn, MA, is using a two-generation approach to tackle housing instability.