A Two-Generation Strategy

Posted December 27, 2013, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

We know that kids’ success in life is closely tied to their parents’ ability to overcome their own obstacles. So the Casey Foundation is working to identify effective ways to address — at the same time — the challenges facing both parents and their children.

That can mean giving parents opportunities to improve their family finances and train for a new or better job, and at the same time providing their children with high-quality pre-school services and convenient health care.

In Atlanta, for example, the Center for Working Families Inc. provides a range of services to parents and children — in a coordinated fashion and a central location, with the goal to move families out of poverty.  And Casey is supporting several local initiatives committed to taking a two-generation approach to serving children and families in three cities through its Family-Centered Community Change strategy.

Several of our partners and peers are focused on two-generation strategies. The Aspen Institute, for example, has documented the importance of such an approach in poverty-alleviation efforts. And the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has also embraced the notion that we must support children and their parents simultaneously.

Informing this work is a growing body of research highlighting the critical role that parents play in the development of young children — especially new findings about the particular struggles facing low-income parents.

New neuroscience research highlights how extreme stress within a family affects child development, including the child’s long-term learning, behavior and mental and physical health.  

As Dr. Jack Shonkoff from Harvard University notes, “When a child grows up in adverse circumstances associated with any combination of the three most frequently documented risk factors associated with poor life outcomes — significant economic hardship, limited parent education and racial or ethnic minority status — the burden of the caregiving environment can be substantial.”

Research also shows that children’s developmental trajectory is influenced by the cumulative impact of interactions and relationships with the important people in their lives. Neighborhoods and environments also play a role but critical resources such as high-performing schools, high-quality medical care and safe outdoor spaces are often out of reach for children living in high-poverty communities. They are also more likely to experience harmful levels of stress and severe behavioral and emotional problems.

With all of those factors in mind, Casey is paying increased attention to finding new ways to address issues related to parenting, including maternal depression and parents’ ability to make a strong connection with their children, guide their behavior, and model self-control — all of which are important factors in family functioning and long-term child and family outcomes.

Those factors are guiding how we refine this two-generation approach.

In short, our theory is that when families have access to high-quality early education and supports for children, assistance to strengthen parents’ caregiving skills and tools to improve their economic standing, the outcomes for parents and children will improve. To that end, we’re supporting efforts throughout the country to help connect kids and their parents to these critical resources and programs so they have the best shot at lifelong success.