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Two-Generation Approaches: A Promising Strategy for Fighting Poverty

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Every child deserves the same opportunity for success. As an anti-poverty agency, CAP Tulsa has developed programs and best practices that align with this mission. Based on research demonstrating the value of high-quality early education, we have worked hard to bring first-rate comprehensive early childhood development programming to the low-income children we serve.

But, early education alone is not enough. Indeed, experts have long recognized the importance of engaging families in creating supportive environments for child development. It is for this reason that CAP Tulsa has embraced the “two-generation” philosophy to breaking the cycle of poverty. We believe this approach creates the best chance for low-income children to ensure their children are not born into poverty.   

In 2005, CAP Tulsa took the first steps in the two-generation direction by embarking on a strategy to align our early childhood services with services we were providing to stabilize adults۪ financial conditions. Our data revealed that two very different groups of families were taking up each kind of service, so the agency leadership made a conscious decision to focus all services on low-income families with children under age 5.
By 2008, CAP Tulsa was bringing in evidence-based parenting programs while simultaneously building an education and workforce development program for parents based on best-practices in the field. Today, CAP Tulsa offers Incredible Years and Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors to help parents build their parenting skills, and CareerAdvance, a multi-pronged program through which parents can earn educational credentials, occupational certifications, and associate۪s degrees. CareerAdvance also offers a pathway for English language learners (ELL) to develop language skills, especially those pertaining to their child۪s development. Recently, an ELL participant shared her excitement about communicating with her child۪s teacher in English for the very first time during a parent-teacher conference. Parents and caregivers of any child enrolled in our early childhood program are eligible for all of these programs.
But “two-generation” means more than just offering independent programs for adults and kids. It involves intentionally and simultaneously connecting services to children and their parents, and allowing them to inspire and motivate one another, especially as they pursue educational achievement. 

CAP Tulsa has found several strategies particularly successful. First, our CareerAdvance program enrolls participants in cohorts. Each cohort has a career coach, who facilitates weekly group meetings so participants can build soft skills and, perhaps more importantly, support among each other. In the early phase of their training, CAP parents attend specifically designed classes at a community college or technical school. Parents come to realize they share the same joys and challenges of having young children while going to college. They help one another through. 
Second, classes are designed to serve parents. Classes overlap with the hours of the early childhood program, which means parents know their children are being well cared for and are learning alongside them.

Third, the parents are motivated by the fact that they and their children are pursuing education together. They are proud of being able to talk with their children about being enrolled in college, and they are proud of increasing their own academic skills in ways that allow them to better engage in their children۪s education. Moreover, CareerAdvance and early childhood staff meet regularly to brainstorm ways to further make the connection between the child۪s and the parent۪s learning.   

Although simple in concept, we have found that a two-generation approach faces several significant challenges in practice. For example, child care policies have generally not been written through a two-generation lens. Subsidies may or may not cover the full duration of an occupational training program, or the critical hours a parent needs to devote to homework and studying, or to a job search. Parents engaged in workforce and training generally see immediate reductions in public benefits when they use newly earned credentials to move to a better paying job.

Finally, the widespread (though not universal) lack of academic readiness among low-income adults poses problems. CareerAdvance has, over time, built increasingly elaborate remedial “on-ramps” to the occupational training. And while thus far CAP Tulsa has been able to cover these costs for participants, in general, remedial education can cause parents to quickly burn through financial aid before reaching the courses that will get them occupational credentials. 

While data are still being collected on a variety of our parent and child outcomes, anecdotal evidence tells us the two-generation approach holds much promise. Indeed, a field of two-generation study has emerged as evidenced by recent work by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Ascend at the Aspen Institute. With the support of these institutions, other foundations, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers, the promise of two-generation has an excellent chance of being taken to scale across the country.

To print a PDF version of this document, click here.

Monica Barczak is the director of the Innovation Lab at CAP Tulsa. 

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