A Two-Generation Strategy

Posted December 28, 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.

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