A Two-Generation Approach to Policy
By Stephanie Schmit
At a joint forum held by CLASP and the Foundation for Child Development (FCD), panelists discussed two-generation policy solutions to reduce poverty. Panelists highlighted local innovation, as well as opportunities for large-scale federal and state policy changes to improve educational opportunities from early childhood to community college to workforce development. With diverse perspectives and experiences, the panelists shared a common vision that the circumstances of poor families are too important and too widespread to continue our current public policies without rethinking how to serve families as a whole, rather than adults and children independently. Fortunately, we have many opportunities to take action.
A new CLASP brief examines major federal and state policy areas for large-scale change that better support families as a whole. Two-generation policies reflect strong research findings that the well-being of parents is inextricably linked to children’s social-emotional, physical, and economic well-being. And at the same time, parents’ ability to succeed in school and the workplace is substantially affected by how well their children are doing. Despite growth of local two-generation programs, which combine services for parents and children, little attention has been given to two-generation approaches to large-scale policy change. These opportunities include:
- Pair education and training pathways with child care and early education. Identifying opportunities for better policy choices that would make it easier to pair education and training pathways with early education would help both parents and children. This would require rethinking program design throughout many policy areas, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), workforce development, higher education, child care, and Head Start.
- Expand early childhood home visiting programs through state and federal investments, and seize other opportunities to help parents and young children in their very vulnerable early years. Home visiting programs offer a variety of voluntary, family-focused services to expectant parents and families with new babies and young children in the families’ homes. Many home visiting programs have a two-generation approach, focusing on the parenting skills and needs of parents while providing child development activities, although this varies tremendously depending upon the model used.
- Improve child care policies for both children and parents. Continuity and stability of care can improve children’s early education as well as adults’ work stability. Removing work schedule verification requirements and allowing for broader authorizations can make child care assistance more usable for parents with work schedule challenges. Linking child care enrollment policies with those of other public benefits can also reduce the burden on parents to get and keep subsidies.
- Improve labor policies for low-income workers. A comprehensive package of improvements in labor policies, including an increase in the minimum wage, advance notice of job schedules, the right to request and receive flexible and predictable job schedules, minimum hours, and paid family and medical leave and paid sick days, would support low-income workers in their role as parents.
- Expand access to health care and mental health treatment. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a game-changing opportunity. The ACA tears down major barriers to depression treatment and provides many mothers with health insurance for the first time. The benefit package includes mental health (and substance abuse) treatment, access to primary and preventive care, as well as, prevention screening and quality measures to target depression.