Spotlight Exclusives

State Leaders Agree: Two-Generation Approach to Fighting Poverty Is Working

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

Programs to provide opportunity for low-income families through a “two-generation” approach that addresses the needs of children and parents together are increasingly gaining traction and being replicated in red and blue states across the country, a new Aspen Institute report outlines.

The reportStates Leading the Way: Practical Solutions that Lift Up Children and Families—was the focus of an Aspen event last week that highlighted work being done in states as varied as Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Utah.

“What we have found is that this work is making a difference in states,” said Roxane White, Morgridge Innovator in Residence at Aspen’s Ascend program. “Let’s replicate what’s working. Let’s scale what’s working. There has never been a time in America when families need us more.”

Aspen President and CEO Dan Porterfield said some of the common denominators linking the state-based strategies are “optimism, non-partisanship, and a commitment to getting demonstrable results.”

“With gubernatorial elections in play in 36 states and 3 territories in 2018, concrete policy innovation and implementation plans are critical,” the report’s executive summary says. “State leaders, from governors and their cabinets to key staff in the offices of early learning and childcare, child support, SNAP, TANF, and WIC, along with critical partners from the social sector and community have leveraged the two-generation approach to advance outcomes for children and families.”

The report groups the 2Gen policies at the state level into several categories, including:

  • Increased social capital;
  • Engagement of fathers and noncustodial parents in parenting and economic supports;
  • Systematic integration of change and accountability for families;
  • Legislative and executive support for 2Gen family outcomes;
  • Culture change to support 2Gen systems change;
  • Incorporation of brain science, resiliency, and trauma-informed care into family supports;
  • Systems and funding working together to support the whole family; and
  • Reduced cliff or benefits effect to support working families. Fiscal cliffs occur when a marginal increase in wages results in a loss in public benefits, often leaving families with fewer resources – even as their income increases.

Specific state programs cited include the Colorado Parent Employment Program, or CO-PEP, a new department to help noncustodial parents overcome barriers to employment so they can financially support their children. Connecticut also took on this issue by enacting new legislation to incorporate fatherhood initiatives in grant efforts, engage noncustodial parents in child support, and require programs receiving grant funding to incorporate fathers in their programming.

In Utah, legislators have brought together leaders from corrections, education, human services, and probation services to work on criminal justice reform by focusing intentionally on at-risk youth and serving youth and their parents together.

In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order to create a 2Gen commission, ensuring public awareness of his intent to support families through innovative ways of doing business.

“How do we, to the best of our abilities, connect the systems in people’s lives, and when systems aren’t working, get in there tinker around so that it works better for children and families?” said Gretchen Hammer, Medicaid Director at the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.

Janine McMahon, a single mother of two in Connecticut, spoke of her life-changing experience last year as a graduate of the state’s Two-Generational Parent Academy, which offered information on everything from how to start a small business to selecting child care and reducing chronic absenteeism.

McMahon said successful 2Gen strategies really listen to and learn from parents while providing with them with actionable strategies for opportunity. “I like to say that we meet parents where they dream, rather than where they are,” McMahon said.

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