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How Two-Generation Programs Improve Outcomes for Families Living in Poverty

Prior to COVID-19, more than 12% of individuals and 17.5% of children in the United States were living at or below the Federal Poverty line. These numbers have undoubtedly surged as stay-at-home orders have gone into effect and the economic downturn spurred by the spread of the corona virus has taken hold of our nation. While many of these individuals today are experiencing situational or somewhat temporary poverty due to unemployment, illness, divorce, or the loss of a spouse, for a significant subset of this population, intergenerational poverty has become the norm—spanning such long periods of time that living in a chronic state of poverty has been passed from one generation to the next.

While non-profit organizations have worked to implement programs aimed at addressing poverty in the short term (as well as some in the long term), these programs have traditionally been designed for only a single generation in mind. For adults, this may translate into job skills development or financial literacy coaching. For children, these programs might materialize as early childhood education offerings or other early academic intervention strategies. But what the parents and the children really need to succeed are intertwined, and to address them separately is far less effective in terms of breaking this cycle of intergenerational poverty.

To combat this issue, communities and organizations have begun implementing two-generation program models, which focus on the needs of the individuals that comprise the entire family unit as a whole.

Five Attributes of Two-Generational Programs

Social sector solutions such as programs, policies, systems, and research, can all benefit by integrating any or all five attributes that characterize the two-generation (2Gen) approach:

  • Early childhood education;

  • Adult and postsecondary education and workforce pathways;

  • Economic supports and assets;

  • Health and well-being elements; and

  • Social capital.

When combined, these elements are very powerful. Whether your organization is looking to strengthen family engagement strategies to support early childhood development or addressing a parent’s economic crisis, applying a sequence of resources specific to each family member’s circumstances is much more effective than an ad hoc approach. From ensuring parents who are pursuing postsecondary degrees have access to high-quality early childhood education to connecting parents with low skills and/or limited English proficiency to adult education programs, each program will deploy these attributes in ways that uniquely satisfy the needs of the target population, all in service to advancing the overall stability of these families.

How to Develop Two-Generational Program Priorities

Organizations looking to revitalize its overall priorities, or developing a new 2Gen program, can follow these four basic steps.

  • Identify the Outcomes You Hope to Achieve—Your program’s outcomes should be split into three categories: adults/parents, children, and the family as a whole. By going through this exercise, you’ll recognize where the dependencies exist and overlap. For example, if a parent is successful at finding employment, childcare is also needed in order for the family to be successful, safe and secure.

  • Develop a Framework that Documents the Workflows of Your Delivery Model—This process will provide a comprehensive road map of all of your internal practices, define a shared terminology, and will include all of the protocols needed to measure participant needs and effectively deliver your services. From human capital to the integration of volunteers, referral partners, funders and other stakeholders, everyone will have a role to play and this process will help to clearly define those roles.

  • Overlay the Pathways that Your Participants Might Use to Access Your Services—Where are the entry points for your participants? What happens as they progress through your services? Are they taking advantage of everything you have to offer? However simple or complex your program is, going through this line of inquiry will prevent participants from slipping through the cracks and boost your organization’s impact.

  • Test, Iterate and Adapt—Societies are never static and as a result, your program also needs to be nimble enough to bear the brunt of the constant fluctuation of external forces, yet just sturdy enough to consistently track and report on outcomes over time. By testing, iterating and adapting to new circumstances, the quality (and outcomes) of your program will continue to improve.

Strategies for Measuring Success

From the initial inception of your 2Gen program, identifying the outcomes your organization hopes to achieve for parents, children and families as a whole, will be critical when it comes to determining your outcome measurement strategy. Taking a disciplined approach to measuring these outcomes from the beginning will pay off in dividends: your organization will realize increased efficiencies that can be scaled; through regular evaluation and continuous feedback related to the program’s design, you’ll identify ways to improve the quality of your data you collect; and you’ll be far better positioned to demonstrate impact to funders, donors, and many other community stakeholders.

If you are considering adopting a 2Gen approach to solve multigenerational poverty in your community, we’d love to partner with you. SureImpact is a user-friendly, social services case management software that enables mission-driven organizations like yours to manage, measure, and communicate their unique social impact.

Also, watch our on-demand webinar "How to Mobilize Your Community and Create Lasting Impact."


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