Helping kids get a good start in life and helping families build financial stability – both are important and critical areas of United Way’s work. Far too often, however, service interventions are targeted to address a specific need of only one generation, and there’s a lack of understanding of the ‘whole’ picture.
That’s why United Way is applying a multi-generation approach and integrating services for both children and their parents.
According to the Ascend at the Aspen Institute, a national thought leader on the subject, multi-generation approaches can be found along a continuum. The graphic below illustrates the starting point (parent or child) and the relative emphasis. The ultimate goal is to reach the whole family, which focuses equally and intentionally on services and opportunities for the parent and the child.
Research demonstrates that the development of children and parents is inextricably linked and mutually reinforcing: 1
- Parents gain motivation to succeed from their children, and vice versa
- Parents’ level of educational attainment is a strong predictor of their children’s education and economic outcomes
- Increased family income during early childhood has a profound and long-lasting impact on children’s lives
- Children’s early social experiences shape their developing neurological and biological systems for good or ill; toxic stress leads to long-lasting challenges, but nurturing relationships boost resilience
For United Way, the multi-generation approach really came to the forefront with the recent unveiling of the Bold Plan for accelerating progress toward the Bold Goals, where a multi-generational approach is identified as one of two integrated, overarching strategies.
“It’s a natural approach for us because we’ve long held our top priorities as early childhood and financial stability,” said Ross Meyer, vice president, community impact United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “We’ve got to pull it all together in a way that we never had in the past in focusing on the needs of the kids and parents at the same time, and ultimately, focusing on moving them out of poverty.”
Poverty Rates Require New Interventions
The need for a new approach is heightened by the fact that nearly half of all kids in Cincinnati are born into poverty - a rate surpassed only by Detroit. There are 46,000 families with a child under five in the Greater Cincinnati area living on income that is below the 200% of poverty level.
“When you look at the data, it’s pretty scary,” said Meyer. “If we can really focus and concentrate effort on those 46,000 families, we’ll make faster progress toward all of the Bold Goals, frankly. We’re making this this one of our top priorities in our upcoming funding cycle, so it’s moved more central to our strategy going forward.”
United Way’s first multi-generation effort was the 2014 iteration of Studio C -- United Way’s innovation lab – which helped local organizations test multi-generation approaches.
“The first year of Studio C allowed us to offer significant technical support assistance and small grants to a group of nonprofits that partnered together to test out new approaches,” said Meyer. "We talk about the Head Start case, but that’s just one. It was a great trial run, and we learned a lot of about what organizations need in terms of support, and that many organizations and services are often delivered in a fragmented way, as opposed to focusing on the whole household.”
Coming out of Studio C, Partners for a Competitive Workforce - a United Way-managed initiative - received a national grant from the Aspen Ascend fund. The grant allowed PCW to test out ways to get more women in manufacturing careers in Northern Kentucky, while also getting their kids interested in STEM education.
“The premise for that project is that it’s tough to get women involved in those non-traditional fields where there are good, well-paying jobs going unfilled,” said Meyer. “So, if you can get the kids interested in technical fields and STEM fields while getting mothers going down the same path, it could be mutually reinforcing.”
United Way/PCW is an Ascend partner in piloting multi-generation solutions and is in the planning stages of a more in-depth project involving the multi-generation approach to begin this fall.
The end goal, ultimately, is for the multi-generation approach to significantly reduce the number of families in Greater Cincinnati living below 200% of poverty level.
“It’s both a short-term and long-term approach,” said Meyer. “If we help kids get a good start, then the evidence suggests it will get them on track to succeed. Helping the parents get back to work not only helps the kids have better outcomes but it helps break the cycle earlier on. In the long term, we hope to, and believe we can, significantly reduce poverty throughout Greater Cincinnati.”
1 – “Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms,” The Future of Children, A Collaboration of the Brookings Institution and Princeton University, Spring 2014, http://www.futureofchildren.org