In Focus: Systems and Financing

Dec 2, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Using Two-Generational Strategies to Support Immigrant Families

By: Christina Walker and Helly Lee

Back in the spring, CLASP convened a high-level group of professionals for a two-day, intensive discussion of important opportunities in policy and practice to better serve immigrant parents and their children together. This Two-Generational Strategies to Improve Immigrant Family and Child Outcome roundtable included senior policymakers, practitioners, researchers, advocates, and foundation leaders from the world of policy and service delivery for low-income families and the world of immigrant-serving organizations and immigration policy.

Today, CLASP is releasing a brief summarizing the highlights drawn from the April roundtable. The roundtable and brief come at a critical time, when immigrants and their children are such a significant part of the changing demographics of the United States. Immigrant families are crucial to the nation’s future success: one-quarter of the nation’s young children – those under age 6 - are children of immigrants. Being a child of immigrants is not itself a risk factor for poor developmental outcomes, and many immigrant families demonstrate strong resilience and success. However, the brief highlights the challenges that arise from the sheer difficulty of providing high-quality services in the face of barriers such as language, education level, race, and poverty that some immigrant families encounter. For instance:

  • 29 percent of young children of immigrants are poor and more than half -56 percent - are low-income;
  • 3 million (50 percent) of immigrant parents with young children are Limited English Proficient (LEP); and
  • 28 percent of immigrant parents of young children have less than a high school degree.

Participants in the roundtable reiterated the urgency of  this moment to have critical conversations and make crucial connections between immigrant-serving and more “mainstream” organizations in order to seize promising policy opportunities. With major policy changes underway as a result of recent reauthorizations of the nation’s child care subsidy and workforce programs, as well as federal executive action to promote immigrant integration, participants identified key strategies, including four practical action steps highlighted in the brief to advance two-generational strategies to support immigrant parents and their children:

  1. Spreading the Sense of Urgency and Opportunity by replicating the discussion of two-generational strategies to support immigrant families and children in convenings around the country to share knowledge and provide an opportunity to plan collaboratively.
  2. Creating Strategic Partnerships involving immigrant-serving organizations, those that currently deliver workforce or early childhood services, and others that serve low income communities of color. Participants also emphasized that creating and sustaining these partnerships requires that federal agencies and philanthropic funders must play a critical support role in providing resources.
  3. Building the New Mainstream Institutions to better serve immigrant families by increasing the capacity of organizations, creating accountability and transparency for what success looks like, and creating opportunities for collaboration.
  4. Thinking Both Big and Small by responding to today’s urgent concern in a way that supports far bigger change in the future: keep the focus simultaneously on immediate, incremental steps and an ambitious long-run vision.

This discussion of two-generational strategies to support immigrant families and children is all the more important given the current budget context at the federal level, with many key programs struggling to meet the needs of today’s families. For example, the Child Care and Development Block Grant is reaching the smallest number of children in 15 years, and the risk that services to immigrants will get worse, not better, is significant. In addition, as Congress delays action on immigration reform policies that would address the needs of immigrant families and as the federal courts continue to stall the implementation of key provisions in the President’s executive order to provide temporary relief for millions of immigrant parents of American children, it is urgent to provide the supports immigrant families need. Significant additional investment is needed to fully seize the important opportunities to support young children of immigrants and help immigrant adults succeed in their dual roles as parents and workers.

Read the brief >> 

Oct 6, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Making a Difference for Poor Babies Using TANF: A Framework for States

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Stephanie Schmit

Americans overwhelmingly agree that children’s fate in life should not be determined by the circumstances in which they are bornBut children born into poor families are at great risk of persistent poverty during their childhood. A growing body of evidence shows that poverty in early childhood is a grave threat to children’s long-term health, well-being, and educational success, with persistent and deep poverty causing the most damage. A new CLASP report, TANF and the First Year of Life: Making a Difference at a Pivotal Moment, suggests an innovative framework for thinking about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in the context of the first year of life, a vision for what a reformed TANF might look like, and concrete steps that states can begin taking right now to move their programs in this direction.

TANF offers an important, large-scale, high-impact opportunity to achieve two-generational goals for poor families with infants because:

  • TANF already reaches about a quarter million of the poorest families with babies or pregnant women, which is about half of deeply poor families with infants.
  • By its design, TANF is inherently a two-generational program, in that it is explicitly aimed at serving low-income families with children.
  • TANF is a block grant that gives states a great deal of flexibility in deciding which needy families to serve, what services to provide, and what to expect of recipients.

Today’s state TANF programs too often fall far short of their potential. Barriers to access, underfunded services, and work requirements that do not take the needs of infants into account hold parents back and make it harder for them to lift themselves and their babies out of poverty. For example, in 11 states, parents of infants under the age of one are subject to work requirements and could lose their entire family’s cash assistance benefit the first time they fail to meet work requirements.

But the growing evidence about the importance of the first year of life for children’s long-term success offers the opportunity to build a much stronger case than even just a few years ago for redesigning TANF programs to meet the developmental needs of infants in TANF families.

For the first time, the paper provides a framework grounded in the research about infant development and detailed data about TANF families and state policy options, to provide a wealth of practical ideas for state leaders. These ideas, organized into a package of foundational options for all states to consider, along with a set of more innovative options for states that have made strong progress on the foundations, include:

  • removing barriers that prevent pregnant women and parents of babies from accessing cash assistance;
  • redesigning work requirements to reflect the needs of infants and the realities of today’s low-wage labor market;
  • ensuring access to quality child care; and
  • building linkages to other programs and services, such as early childhood home visiting, health care, and nutritional supports.

Some states have already started to adopt more evidence-based and positive policies for TANF families. Minnesota repealed its family cap in 2013. Last year, Washington state set aside nearly $1 million from the TANF block grant to fund a pilot home visiting project targeting TANF recipients using evidence-based models already used in the state. The recent reauthorizations of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) require states to make a number of changes to how they deliver the services funded by these programs, and how they relate to TANF. This makes it an opportune time for states to think holistically about how these multiple programs serve the same families, and to re-envision TANF as a true two-generational anti-poverty program. 

Jul 27, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Missed Opportunity: Young children and disadvantaged youth deserve more attention in ESEA Reauthorization

By Kisha Bird and Christina Walker

Earlier this month, on July 16th, the U.S. Senate passed its Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) reauthorization bill, the Every Child Achieves Act ( S.1177), with an overwhelming show of bi-partisan support. The bill, brokered by Senate leaders Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Patty Murray (D-Washington), includes important provisions, such as:

  • requiring goals for achievement and high school graduation;
  • specifying the collection of data related to educational resources, including per-pupil expenditures;
  • disaggregating student achievement data; and
  • allowing funds to be used to improve early childhood education programs and to promote better coordination through agreements with Head Start agencies and other entities to carry out these activities.

However, the bill fails to direct or provide resources to local districts and states to implement effective strategies to improve student achievement and address access and equity gaps for poor and low-income students. In particular, the bill does not include a dedicated funding stream for pre-k or for dropout prevention and recovery for students in the middle and high school grades.

On July 8th, the House passed its ESEA reauthorization bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5). Similarly, H.R. 5 does not target funding to address these issues and fails to include protections for poor and vulnerable students.  H.R. 5 would also divert much-needed funds from the highest poverty schools and districts through the “portability” concept. This would allow Title I funds, which have the express purpose of assisting public schools with high concentrations of poverty and high-need students, to follow a child to any public or private school and would undermine critical targeting of limited Title I funds.

Passed during the civil rights era in 1965, ESEA’s purpose has always been to provide educational opportunity to all students and provide funding to districts to better serve poor and low-income students. Today, there is a high number of children in poverty and they are disproportionately of color. Poor and low-income children and youth have far worse education and employment outcomes in adulthood, and they are also more likely to drop out of high school. ESEA reauthorization represents an important opportunity to address equity gaps and achievement among poor students and students of color.

In particular, ESEA should include dedicated funding that would target low-performing middle and high schools and implement proven dropout prevention and recovery strategies to better support struggling students and those who have dropped out. The on-time high school graduation rate has steadily improved to 81 percent for the class of 2013. Strategies such as early identification and intervention approaches for middle school students who feed into high schools with low graduation rates, and the growing number of dropout recovery and reengagement efforts in communities across the country have no doubt helped to spur these positive changes. Federal policy should build on this momentum, not abandon it. Too many students still fail to graduate from high school on time, and students of color still face unacceptable graduation gaps. ESEA should also help states and local districts tackle institutional challenges in supporting students to be college and career ready by providing resources and direction to improve course availability and gaps, counselor ratios, and teacher quality in high-poverty schools. At a time, when a growing majority of all U.S. jobs will require some postsecondary education, a focus on these issues is critical to our future economy.

Furthermore, high-quality early care and education programs play a critical role in the healthy development of young children, particularly those in low-income households. Despite growing consensus on the importance of the early years, lack of public investment leaves many young children without access to high-quality early education programs, including Head Start, public and community-based preschool programs, and child care programs. Both the Senate and the House bills stopped short of providing a dedicated funding stream to provide high-quality early childhood education through a mixed-delivery system for children ages birth through five. Moreover, the bills did not include strong accountability language, such as improved data collection policies and procedures that require programs to report how many children under the age of school entry are served by ESEA funds; which services these children receive and the total expenditures related to this age group; and the adoption of developmentally appropriate, early learning assessments.

The Senate and House bills are now headed to the conference committee charged with reconciling differences and drafting  a compromise bill that is acceptable to both houses of Congress and that the President can sign.  While it is unlikely, the choice to advance important protections for poor and vulnerable students and fund strategies to address equity gaps among students of color is still a possibility.

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