Here at Innovate Springfield, we are always looking for evidence-based solutions to community problems. Two of the largest topics we tackle center around early childhood education and development and local workforce development. These two topics are intrinsically linked, not only because children who are supported in early life often have more positive career outcomes, but also because parents’ successes so often become their children’s successes as well. If we want to enable the success of both parents and children, we need to invest in Two-Generation solutions.
What are Two-Generation solutions?
Two-Generation solutions are becoming more and more popular. These programs explicitly seek to support low-income parents and children from the same family with education, healthcare, or economic programs. This tactic is not at all a new one. The first iteration of Two-Generation solutions emerged in 1965 with the national launch of the Head Start program, which sought to embed self-sufficiency programs for parents in early childhood education programs, as well as adding child care services to education and employment opportunities for parents. Other programs in the 1980’s and 90’s included family support, parenting, literacy, mental health, and access to public benefits. This era is known as Two-Generation 1.0, and while many programs emerged during this time, few were sustained or evaluated in any meaningful way. It has only been in the last two decades that we have seen a resurgence of Two-Generation programs, with more data collection and analysis built in.
This strategy is based on a framework of five central cogs:
- postsecondary and employment pathways
- early childhood education
- economic assets like asset building, housing, and transportation
- health and well-being
- social capital like networks, friends, and neighbors
When programs collaborate to offer support in all of these areas, both parents and children prosper.
What can Two-Generation Programs Look Like?
Two-Generation programs can take many forms. At the University of Illinois Chicago, UI Health provides a Two-Generation Clinic, where families can both receive healthcare, mental health, and social services, particularly new mothers and infants. Colorado has gone all-in on Two-Generation solutions, establishing collaborative management programs at the county level to coordinate children, youth, and family services and exploring differentiated funding to better support families in need. Tennessee has tied job training opportunities, transportation, and educational tools with the state’s public assistance program, Families First.
Locally, Sangamon County already has several programs serving both children and adults. Nurse-Family Partnership, relaunching in late 2021, is an evidence-based, community health program that serves low-income women pregnant with their first child. Each vulnerable new mom is partnered with a registered nurse early in her pregnancy and receives ongoing nurse home visits through their child’s second birthday. Springfield Urban League implements Early Head Start and Head Start programs as well as the Community Technology Training Center that seeks to provide workforce and educational development for underprivileged students and adults. The Capital Area Career Center has childcare on site, and UIS is home to the Cox Children Center, a NAEYC accredited, Gold Circle of Quality preschool that is a resource for university students, faculty, staff, alumni and community clients.
A 2018 study states that “[T]wo-generation programs would improve effectiveness of existing programs by simultaneously boosting educational outcomes for children and parents and subsequent earnings for parents, which is likely to have synergistic effects across generations.”
Moving forward, there are myriad possibilities to expand and connect existing Sangamon County programs to create wraparound, family-centered support. Local community colleges have opportunity here, as the Biden administration has called for both two years of free community college courses and two years of high quality preschool. While many community colleges offer some kind of childcare for staff and students, they may be able to leverage this federal investment toward early education staff and resources as well as becoming a local pipeline for early childhood educator training. (Hopefully, some of this federal funding goes toward paying Illinois preschool teachers, who make a median $29,160 annually in contrast to $64,480 for district kindergarten teachers, but that’s another blog.)
The one thing we know for sure is that healthy and supported adults are much more likely to raise healthy and supported children, and by empowering healthy and supported families, our community will thrive.
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