Knowledge Exchange Recap: Addressing Poverty through Two Generation Approaches

Each month we’ll be reporting out on our Knowledge Exchanges, held as part of our Visiting Fellowship in Urban Poverty with Loyola University of Chicago’s Center on Urban Research and Learning (CURL).

In March we had two discussions, the first of which was on “Early Childhood Policy Priorities” and was lead by Gaylord Gieseke, President of Voices for Illinois Children.

The second was a presentation by Dr. P. Lindsay Chase Lansdale and Dr. Teresa Eckrich Sommer of Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research on a two generation approach to understanding poverty. The recap below of the session’s conversation is provided courtesy of our Visiting Fellow.

Two generation programs are based on two guiding principles. The first is the assumption that the rise in child poverty is related to the poverty of their parents. Family poverty is increasing because well-paying, low skilled jobs are in decline, and those without a college education or vocational training have difficulty finding work that pays a livable wage. Sixty-seven percent of low income children have parents with a high school degree or less. Therefore, a main goal of two generation programs is to address child poverty by providing education and employment opportunities for parents that will increase family wages.

The second guiding principle of two generation programs is the importance of stable and resource-rich educational and home environments for a child’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. The importance of a child’s 0-5 experiences has been embraced by early childhood education advocates, but advocates for two generation approaches argue that the proximal environment of children consists of both the home and the school. High quality early childhood education has positive impacts on children, but this is only one half of the equation. In order to have a stable and supportive home environment, many families need support accessing good paying jobs, safe and affordable housing, and reliable child care.

The concept of a two generation approach is not new — when Headstart began in 1965 it offered programming for both children and parents, and in the early 1990’s several programs attempted to link early education programs with adult self-sufficiency programming, such as GED and financial literacy classes for parents. However, these early attempts at two generation programs were flawed—many failed to provide meaningful links to better paying employment, and they often provided childcare, rather than high quality early education. Today’s two generation programs can be defined as programs that intentionally and simultaneously connect education and job training programs for adults with high quality early education centers for their children. These programs are co-located in the same facility, parent and child programming are coordinated, and there is an effort to link parents directly to employers. Dr. Chase-Lansdale and Dr. Eckrich-Sommer discussed the CAP Tulsa program, which has become a national model, and the Evanston Two-Generation Initiative, a local pilot program that is being developed by the Aspen Institute, Northwestern University and the Evanston Community Foundation.

Discussion Summary

What differentiates the CAP Tulsa program from earlier attempts to provide two generation programming and what lessons have been learned?

The CAP Tulsa program relies heavily on peer support and coaching by creating cohorts of parents who have a great deal in common—they all have children enrolled in the same early childhood education program and they take classes together. This creates bonding ties between parents, and the coaches serve as bridges to employers. The coaches play a very important role and provide a level of integration and support that was missing from earlier two generation programs. Coaches must be knowledgeable in both early education and employment issues, and be able to guide peer groups so that they maintain focus and motivation. The high cost of vocational training programs is a significant barrier to mobility, so the CAP Tulsa program provides free classes that can be used to obtain certifications in the healthcare field. Finally, the parents’ classes are located in an enhanced early education center, which ensures that children have a safe and reliable place to go while the parents are in class.

While this has been an effective strategy for engaging parents and improving child outcomes, there are several ways in which the program could be improved. First, it has become apparent that education does not necessarily equate to better paying jobs, and in order to be successful, two generation programs may need to develop relationships with local employers. Second, the Tulsa program has attracted mothers, but has not met its goal of engaging fathers. This could be due, in part, to the focus on health care, which is a predominantly female field. Finally, it became apparent that many parents were not ready for vocational training, so the CAP Tulsa program has implemented more foundational programs that can serve as a pipeline to vocational training.

What is the status of the Evanston program, and how is it building on the CAP Tulsa model?

The Evanston pilot program is a partnership between the Aspen Ascend Institute, the Evanston Community Foundation and Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. The Program Director is Artishia Hunter, an Illinois Early Childhood Fellow with a MEd in Early Childhood Administration. The first step has been the development of partnerships with early childhood education centers and community institutions, such as Oakton Community College, the YMCA, and the Evanston Public Library.

After making these initial connections, Evanston launched a 13 week career exploration program. The program, which runs from February-May 2014, has 13 parents who were recruited from three high quality early education centers. A career coach from Women Employed is facilitating weekly sessions to begin building a peer support network and to help participants identify their career goals. Meanwhile, the Evanston program staff (having learned from the CAP Tulsa program) is developing a job placement program by meeting with local employers from a range of fields including construction, manufacturing, healthcare, and residential senior care. The Tulsa program measured child outcomes, but the Evanston program will expand its evaluation to assess the professional and socio-emotional development of parents.

How does this model address the challenges that other anti-poverty programs have struggled with, namely, the engagement of fathers and meeting the needs of families that cannot work?

Many family-support programs have excluded fathers, and it is an explicit goal of two generation programs to enroll as many fathers as possible. This has proven to be difficult, and in Evanston, the program staff is working on developing relationships with employers in the construction field, as this may attract more men. While increased family income is the ultimate end goal of two generation approaches, there is also an understanding that many families need other types of support, including mental health services and assistance with basic math and reading skills. Currently, parents who have a high school diploma or GED are the most successful at vocational training, but the model could be expanded to provide more comprehensive services and to include outcomes that extend beyond employment, such as improved parent child relationships and mental health.

“A child who returns home from a stimulating educational setting to a stressed family environment with few learning resources and parents who are worried about making ends meet is likely to do less well than a child who experiences enriching environments both in and outside the home.


Human capital two generation approaches go about changing the child by fostering learning and social competence through an early education program and changing the child’s home environment by promoting parents’ education, employment and income.”

-Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. 2014. “Two- Generation Approaches in the Twenty First Century”

Back To Blog

Stay Informed

Join our newsletter and stay up-to-date with BPI.

"*" indicates required fields