Families with young children are more likely to live in poverty, and due to their low-income status, these families face barriers that can have a negative impact on their child’s early development. Research shows that meaningful and continuous access to high-quality early learning and care can deliver a 13 percent return on investment, yet the cost of quality care, which can rival the cost of housing, is prohibitive for many families. The cycle of poverty is complex. A host of initiatives to break that cycle have evolved over time in response to research and practice. A two-generation approach to reduce poverty is one that, through purposeful alignment, coordination, and collaboration, simultaneously addresses parent and child needs together. The Annie E. Casey Foundation convened a Two-Generation Talk Back to articulate where the two-generation approach is at now, and how advancing the evaluation and research of this approach can provide insight into developing an effective infrastructure that helps families succeed.

Recognizing there is no one silver bullet, a growing emergence of evidence points to the renewed potential for a two-generation approach that can aid in disrupting the intergenerational cycle of poverty. In their policy report, ‘Creating Opportunity for Families’, the Annie E. Casey Foundation outlines the three components of a two-generation strategy that strengthens families by bringing programs for adults and children together in a meaningfully coordinated way.

  1. Provide parents with multiple pathways to get family-supporting jobs and achieve financial stability.
  2. Ensure access to high-quality early childhood education and enriching elementary school experiences.
  3. Equip parents to better support their children socially and emotionally and to advocate for their kids’ education.

Federal funding from Head Start (HS), the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), and the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program help ensure that eligible, low-income families access affordable early learning and care opportunities. Targeted interventions that yield positive outcomes for their target populations already exist, and intentional partnerships can leverage these efforts to build upon their positive results. Investing in children and their families, through coordinated home visiting, early childhood education programs, and job-training programs, can create a path to opportunity now, and a steadier path for the next generation. Findings from an August 2017 study from researchers at Texas A&M and Notre Dame show that societal investments in early childhood education can disrupt the intergenerational transmission of the effects of poverty. Children of parents who attended Head Start themselves benefit from increased educational attainment, reduced teen pregnancy, and reduced criminal engagement in the second generation. As the knowledge-base deepens around the long-term impact of high-quality early learning and its vital role in an effective two-generation approach, the growing foundation of evidence for two-generation programs will provide important insight for leaders in the public and private sector.