The Costs of Coordinating Two-Generation Programs

Research Report

The Costs of Coordinating Two-Generation Programs

Estimated Labor Costs of Family Services and Cross-Generation Coordination for Two-Generation Partnerships in Buffalo, Columbus, and San Antonio


Across the United States, interest has grown in two-generation approaches as a strategy for lifting families out of poverty. These approaches vary in the combination of services they offer and their target population, but they all share a common goal of supporting low-income children and their parents simultaneously so entire families can progress together (Aspen Ascend 2014). Despite the growing prominence of two-generation approaches, less is known about their cost and the size of the investment needed to make them successful. Only one published study has estimated the full cost of operating two-generation programs (James Bell Associates 2018). Yet, no study to date has isolated the specific costs associated with bringing together existing single-generation services (i.e., those for parents only and those for children only), building two-generation services, and coordinating interventions for families within a two-generation framework.

This study seeks to address this knowledge gap by estimating the staff labor cost of the two-generation coordination and integration that holds together Family-Centered Community Change (FCCC). Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, FCCC is a two-generation effort that integrated existing single-generation neighborhood services and developed new family-focused services in three service footprints located in Buffalo, New York; Columbus, Ohio; and San Antonio, Texas.

 This study may be useful for multiple audiences. By providing three case studies of the staff labor costs of two-generation service coordination, this research may help other localities and nonprofit service providers in budget planning and resource allocation when organizing their own two-generation efforts. Funders and policymakers, including representatives of state and local governments, interested in supporting similar collaborative work may benefit from understanding the personnel investment necessary to support cross-organizational partnerships and coordinated service delivery. Researchers may also benefit from the findings, which could benchmark future two-generation cost studies.

Cost Estimates

This study isolates and estimates the staff labor costs associated with the connective tissue of two-generation programs, as follows:

  • Coordinating and integrating existing child services and adult education and training services in a place-based effort: These costs included time staff spent on outreach and enrollment for two-generation programs; leadership, management, and data activities; and development and maintenance of cross-sector partnerships and relationships over the lifetime of the program.
  • Directly providing services that had an explicit two-generation focus, such as family coaching and family services and events: These services were designed to support the entire family. The community partners built these as part of the two-generation efforts.
  • Directly providing new single-generation services: These services were created as a result of the FCCC program. However, the study did not include the full cost of directly providing single-generation services that preexisted FCCC, as these were already funded and operating within each community.

Two-generation programs will incur other nonlabor costs in addition to the costs presented in this study. Service providers may also incur nonlabor costs if they helped participants overcome financial barriers, for example, by covering costs like groceries, transportation, or tuition. We excluded nonlabor expenses from this study, considering they are often discretionary, not well tracked, and vary from program to program and across cities. We also think that many community organizations can estimate nonlabor costs reasonably well using local knowledge, while the cost of the staff time required to enhance existing place-based services with a two-generation model is less well known and harder to estimate. The main contribution of this study is helping program planners estimate these costs on the basis of three case studies. Box 1 summarizes the types of costs tracked.

We conducted this study during the sixth and seventh years of FCCC’s seven-year grant period. The two-generation interventions in each community were continuously evolving over the grant period, and core elements of the programming have continued even after the grant period ended. Therefore, the costs represent a snapshot at a point in time after several years of evolution in each two-generation effort. Given the timing of the study, we do not have information about start-up costs.

Two-Generation Costs Tracked in the FCCC Study

Outreach and enrollment: costs related to interactions with the community’s target population to inform, engage, or bring in prospective clients or currently enrolled clients who may or may not be involved in activities.

Coaching: costs related to all forms of coaching, including financial counseling and job coaching, for enrolled adults.

Training and adult education: costs related to the direct provision of any new training or credentialing program established because of FCCC, as well as costs related to coordinating of any existing training or credentialing program.

Child services: costs related to the direct provision of any new child services established because of FCCC, as well as costs related to coordinating any existing educational services for children, including child care, early education and prekindergarten, and auxiliary elementary school services.

Family services: costs related to integrating the parent and child components of FCCC interventions.

Coordination and referrals: costs related to linking clients with services and resources, which may be part of the FCCC partnership or outside it.

Data entry and analysis: costs related to collecting, entering, managing, and analyzing two-generation programmatic data (excludes costs directly related to the evaluation).

Management and supervision: costs related to management and supervision of employees on FCCC activities.

Leadership: costs that shape the organizational and institutional composition of the FCCC effort.

Key Findings

The three communities were different from each other—each represented a distinct approach to two-generation programming with a different number of organizational partners and staff providing services, various levels of service intensity, and different services offered. All three cities had a similar cost of living (Popkin et al. 2019). The number of families served over the entire FCCC grant period also varied by community, though the official enrollment numbers reported here substantially underestimate the total number of individuals and families that received any FCCC service. Therefore, we do not compute or report a per-participant cost. Findings represent three separate case studies and should only be compared across communities to understand which activities were more or less costly, rather than to compare total dollar amounts.

  • Buffalo’s cost of staff labor came to an estimated $120,600 over a three-month period (October 2018–December 2018). The largest proportion of costs came from data activities (23 percent), coaching (18 percent), management (14 percent), and outreach and enrollment (12 percent). The share of costs spent on data activities aligned with Buffalo’s emphasis on refining its data-tracking procedures and using them for management purposes. Buffalo formally enrolled 274 families over the entire grant period.
  • Columbus’s cost of staff labor came to an estimated $104,200 over a three-month period (October–December 2019). Most costs were related to coaching (22 percent), leadership activities (19 percent), child services (16 percent), and data activities (15 percent). The share of costs spent on coaching aligned with Columbus’s intensive approach to family coaching. In Columbus, 112 families were formally enrolled in FCCC.
  • San Antonio’s cost of staff labor came to an estimated $295,300 over a three-month period (January–March 2019). The largest costs were related to leadership activities (21 percent), followed by management (20 percent), data activities (16 percent), and child services (14 percent). The share of costs spent on leadership activities aligned with San Antonio’s emphasis on coordination across numerous two-generation organizational and agency partners. San Antonio formally enrolled 461 families.
  • Nearly all labor costs (92 percent or more) were compensated in every community, meaning that staff were paid for their time (as opposed to working “off the clock”). The staff roles that reported working the largest amount of uncompensated time varied across each community. The tasks that required the most uncompensated work were outreach and enrollment activities in San Antonio and leadership in Buffalo and Columbus.
  • Data tasks were among the top four most costly activities in every community. Staff used data to track participants’ service receipt and to coordinate service delivery. The communities were also required to report data to outside organizations (including FCCC evaluators) for performance measurement and evaluation. The research team instructed FCCC staff members to record evaluation-related costs separately so they would be excluded from this study, but some community leadership members thought that some evaluation costs may have been captured in the reported totals.
  • Adult education and training were among the least costly activities in each community, though this is likely because our study captures the costs of coordinating these services, rather than the full cost of providing them.

Opportunities for Future Research

The costs presented in the study estimate the resources staff needed to bring and hold together two-generation programming in three separate communities. Questions remain about the costs associated with planning and setting up two-generation programming and what programs cost per person or per family served. More evidence is needed on the cost of providing the entire package of family services, including child and adult education and training and nonlabor costs. Future research could explore these questions to estimate the full cost of two-generation programs. In conjunction with an impact study, future efforts could also compare the costs against the benefits of two-generation efforts for the families and communities they serve.

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