A new report, Investing in Innovation, reflects on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s experience with a two-generation initiative aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty — and shares valuable advice for funders who may be interested in supporting this work.
The Family Economic Success - Early Childhood Education (FES-ECE) initiative, which Casey launched in 2013, was shaped by a simple premise: Families do better when services are integrated to support children and their parents at the same time. In practice, this work involved connecting children to high-quality early learning opportunities while also helping parents increase earnings, manage finances and reduce stress.
Four sites with differing two-generation approaches participated in FES-ECE. These pilot efforts involved:
Over the life of FES-ECE, the Foundation provided $5 million in support to help sites advance their work in areas such as peer learning, data capacity and infrastructure. In addition, Casey commissioned an evaluation to review the progress that three sites had made. The fourth site — Tulsa — participated in a separate evaluation.
The initiative, which lasted three years, produced some useful insights for funders, according to participating Foundation staff and consultants. This advice, which is outlined in the report, includes:
- Ensuring that indicators and performance measures are clear. FES-ECE needed a more developed theory of change to effectively measure and achieve improved child outcomes over the course of its life.
- Investing in longer timelines. FES-ECE involved significant changes in the ways organizations operated, worked with partners and measured success. Six to eight years would have been a more appropriate length of investment.
- Listening to families. Participating families should have a chance to describe their needs, strengths and service barriers. In addition to informing a program’s design and evaluation, this information can help funders gain a clearer sense of the resources and investment length needed to achieve results.
- Building a site’s capacity to collect and use integrated family data. Program improvement requires good, user-friendly data systems, and frontline staff members need information on children and parents when working with families.
- Adopting a formal team-based peer-learning approach. The Action Learning Network methodology, developed by the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, helped organizations participating in FES-ECE accelerate and strengthen local changes in process, structure and culture.
While the initiative’s early results are promising — and building knowledge on two-generation strategies is important — FES-ECE did not clearly demonstrate that child outcomes improved across the three sites evaluated. “This is challenging work,” says Senior Associate Rosa Maria Castañeda, who leads investments in two-generation approaches for the Casey Foundation. It’s also worthwhile work, according to CCastañeda. “We continue to see great potential in integrated approaches that simultaneously address the needs of parents and children in low-income families,” she says.
Read or download Investing in Innovation
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