In recent years, there has been increased attention to addressing the needs of at-risk families via two-generation approaches, with programs that focus on parents and children.
Last week, at the 16th annual Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference, hosted by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families, researchers, practitioners and policymakers gathered to discuss new findings and approaches in providing services and supports to low-income families. The conference included a session on two-generation strategies to provide services that support parents and their children. The session provided useful information and food for thought on what we are learning about how to do this effectively, and what we still need to learn.
CC Image courtesy of PJR on Flickr
Lisa Gennetian of the National Bureau of Economic Research moderated the session, titled “Two Generation Strategies to Support Family Well-Being and Stability.” Gennetian recapped past approaches which focused on teens and young mothers, including New Chance and various home visiting models, noting that for many of these models, the results have not been as strong as would have been hoped. The field currently is focused more on economic self-sufficiency approaches in addition to parenting, with more optimism. Holistic approaches in two-generation programming were noted, including the Jeremiah Program in Minnesota. Also mentioned was the Ascend initiative at the Aspen Institute, a leading player in the two-generation approaches space.
Shelley Waters Boots, Senior Consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, spoke about the Foundation’s work on two-generation approaches. In the Casey Foundation’s framework, there are three major components in two-generation interventions:
- Family economic success strategies
- Capacity building for parents and caregivers
- Early care and education and early grades
The expectation is that if families receive all three components simultaneously, it will lead to stronger outcomes than would be achieved with just one of the pieces. The Foundation is supporting efforts employing this two-generation approach via its Family-Centered Community Change initiative, with community-based partners delivering these multi-level services in Buffalo, Columbus, and San Antonio. Casey seeks to test new ways to deliver two-generation programs that can be both cost-effective and scalable. This is an encouraging approach for the field, since developing programs likely to be effective and replicable in the real world, rather than boutique programs, is essential to making a real difference for at-risk children and families.
Susan Popkin, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, discussed lessons learned from the Housing Opportunities and Services Together Demonstration, which coordinates public housing and human services in four sites, in Chicago, IL, Portland, OR, Washington, DC, and Brooklyn, NY. In each of these public housing sites, the HOST demonstration program also provided services for families and for children and youth specifically, from afterschool programming to sexual health services. These ambitious demonstration programs are still underway, and they have had some implementation successes and faced several challenges. Among the lessons learned were: figuring out how to serve lots of kids; determining how to target kids most at risk; building trust within the community in the broader context of a long history of distrust and isolation; and the need to choose project partners carefully, ensuring that community and service partners are willing to work collaboratively toward shared goals in order to be effective partners.
JoAnn Hsueh, Senior Associate at MDRC, presented findings on OPRE’s Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project. This demonstration project provided Early Head Start (EHS) services enhanced by incorporating employment and education services for parents. The project, which included a longitudinal experimental design with an implementation study, has been completed. The study, which examined impacts on employment, earnings, and child care at 18-month and 42-month follow-ups, found only a few limited significant impacts, but the project has yielded some key lessons learned that provide insight in to the challenges of delivering these services effectively.
The program faced implementation challenges in delivering the full program model with fidelity. Most interesting among these challenges was the problem of adding self-sufficiency services for parents on to an Early Head Start program; EHS staff, accustomed to providing early childhood services, did not feel they had expertise to help parents with job and education goals. Further, in some cases the EHS staff were not in agreement with the demonstration program’s employment goals for parents, feeling that employment was not in the best interest of these parents of babies and toddlers. On a more technical note, the evaluation was also unlikely to detect differences between treatment and control groups given that the difference in the amount of services received between the two groups was small — this means that both groups received fairly similar services, so understandably there was not a great difference between groups in results.
Findings from Popkin and Hsueh both illustrate the many real-world challenges of trying to meet the needs of low-income families by working across service areas that have traditionally operated in silos, being delivered in separate places by separate agencies. Two-generation programs are a promising area with more work to be done to continue efforts to transcend traditional program boundaries and address the needs of at-risk parents and their children.