External Forces Affect Efforts to Serve Parents and Children Together
Two evaluation reports document how communities participating in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Family-Centered Community Change™(FCCC) initiative have grappled with broad trends in housing, education and transportation as they pursue new approaches to strengthening families.
Drawing on lessons from Buffalo, Columbus and San Antonio, the Urban Institute’s report, Incorporating Two-Generation Approaches into Community Change, identifies external factors that can hamper an initiative’s effectiveness and offers lessons on how to combat them. Initiatives can’t be looked at in isolation, the report finds — it’s important to consider the context in which they work.
A second report, Fostering Racial and Ethnic Equity and Inclusion, looks at how FCCC partners have used the Foundation’s strategies and resources for advancing racial and ethnic equity and inclusion to strengthen approaches for families. For both reports, the Urban Institute used data from public sources and evaluation partners, along with focus groups, observations and interviews in all three FCCC locations.
“These reports show how important it is for community change efforts to understand large forces that affect families, and take these forces into account in shaping their strategies,” says Amoretta Morris, the Foundation’s director of national community strategies. “The evaluators also demonstrate that many of these challenges stem from and are compounded by racism, and that approaches must address those root causes.”
What is FCCC?
Two-generation approaches aim to provide coordinated resources for children and their parents. The Foundation launched FCCC in 2012, partnering with community development initiatives in Buffalo, Columbus and San Antonio. The initiative works to bolster family well-being in three key areas: 1) economic stability, 2) parent engagement and leadership and 3) early child care and education.
Navigating Broad External Factors
The Urban Institute found that even the most effective community development initiatives may have to navigate structural challenges that extend beyond their borders, including lack of affordable housing, employment uncertainty, inadequate transportation, enduring deficits in child care and educational resources and an unpredictable policy environment. Specifically, the Urban Institute concluded that:
- External factors can play a major role in influencing the success of a community development initiative. In the three communities, some of these factors — like strong existing partnerships with local elementary schools — were positive. But others, like the local effects of the national housing crisis and uncertainty about immigration policy on the federal level, acted as roadblocks.
- Local public officials and organizations can navigate external obstacles through adaptation. As a response to the growing affordable housing crisis, Buffalo ramped up eviction prevention services and affordable housing initiatives. Columbus worked with local partners to improve early care and education for young children. San Antonio focused on improving academic outcomes in local elementary schools by strengthening partnerships with the local school district and workforce system.
- Partnerships should understand societal influences beyond their control — from inadequate local transportation to affordable housing shortages — and plan around them to craft an effective two-generation approach.
- Partnerships should build local coalitions that foster policy advancement on a community level to maintain and promote progress in the face of an unpredictable national policy landscape.
Advancing Equity in FCCC
In each FCCC location, most parents and children served were people of color. Race plays an undeniable role in shaping the lives and opportunities of children and adults across the country, and the Foundation encouraged FCCC partners to address that reality by adopting approaches that incorporate racial and ethnic equity and inclusion — and by taking advantage of the Foundation’s training and resources.
After observing equity trainings in the three FCCC communities, the Urban Institute offered recommendations for others to use in advancing equity:
- Put in time. Devote sufficient time to the engagement and inclusion of people who are receiving REEI training — and benefiting from it.
- Use clear language. Use clear, shared language for discussing topics of racial and ethnic equity to foster a dialogue that is inclusive and understandable.
- Invest in continuity. Create learning opportunities and trainings that are ongoing, reinforcing lessons over time.
- Keep track of progress. Collect and use data to track improvements, so you can learn from and replicate them.
- Be clear with your audience and stakeholders. Know your intended audience, and recognize who your stakeholders are. Be clear with them about their role in building racial equity and inclusion.
- Look inward. Take the temperature of your own organization or initiative. Are you practicing the values that you preach? Are you a model for the progress you propose?