Developing Two-Generation Approaches in Communities

Research Report

Developing Two-Generation Approaches in Communities

Final Report from Family-Centered Community Change

Abstract

Family-Centered Community Change (FCCC), launched by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (the Foundation), supported local partnerships in three neighborhoods with low economic resources over seven years (2012–19) as they developed more integrated sets of services to help adults and children succeed together in a two-generation approach. This innovative effort sought to bring two-generation strategies into existing place-based comprehensive community initiatives in Buffalo, New York; Columbus, Ohio; and San Antonio, Texas. The Foundation also provided training and technical assistance in the third year of the effort to help the community partnerships to incorporate principles of racial and ethnic equity and inclusion. The Urban Institute conducted a formative evaluation of this effort that included qualitative data collection, descriptive analysis of program data, and a cost study.

By the end of 2019, community grantees had enhanced their partnerships and developed new coaching and family supports. They also built out the existing single-generation services available to FCCC families. They achieved many of the tenets of integrated two-generation services, though we describe in this report opportunities for deepening and enhancing the work. Tangible legacies of this work include new mutual commitments among partners; new cultures of data sharing; new models of service delivery (e.g., embedding family services within schools); and improvements in the quality of and/or connections to early care and education (ECE) providers.

Adult and family services: A key service across the three FCCC efforts was family coaching, in which coaches helped adults set goals for themselves and often for their children. Coaches then helped connect families with resources and opportunities to meet those goals. Two of the three communities also offered financial coaching. Other services included housing assistance, employment services, adult education and training, and family events. Mental health was one common area of unmet need, and all three communities were challenged in finding appropriate providers. One community succeeded in developing an adult mental health partnership late in the grant period.

Child services: Each community partnership took a different approach to child services. In one community, the lead organization ran high-quality child care centers and neighborhood elementary schools, so it was able to directly integrate family services in those spaces. Another community struggled for many years with the availability and affordability of ECE slots and eventually doubled down on integrating an enhanced service partnership in the local elementary school, focusing on supplementing the services for young school-age children and their families. The third community took a structural approach, improving the quality of community ECE providers so families and their children would have better options available, but it did not provide many direct child services to participating families. Finally, all three communities offered some form of parenting education or home visiting.

Common service challenges: All three communities had to contend with structural inequities, as detailed in Popkin et al. (2019). These inequities included challenges with job quality and availability, transportation, and housing quality and affordability. In addition, although all three community partnerships wanted to orient services to meet adult and family goals, they sometimes found it difficult to put together the right combination of services to meet the wide range of goals families established. They also struggled to secure funding to supplement the FCCC grants. The challenge of the limited supply of quality and affordable ECE options (and in some cases elementary education options)—an issue well documented in child policy research (e.g., Henly and Adams 2018)—sometimes proved to be insurmountable. Individual communities also faced challenges around shortage of adult training slots, difficulty engaging employers, and staff turnover.

Partnership development: Partners needed to overcome traditional organizational boundaries that naturally define independent organizations. Generally, partnerships were strongest when funding was secure, when partners felt invested in the work, when leaders communicated a clear vision and direction, and when staff felt they understood each other’s contributions and roles. Informed by the FCCC experience, the Urban research team developed a framework to characterize partnership integration in two-generation efforts (McDaniel et al. 2021).

Costs: As detailed in a separate report, combining and coordinating adult and child services and developing an infrastructure to support families requires substantial personnel investments (Gold et al. 2021). The Foundation gave communities flexibility in their FCCC grants to be able to build service infrastructure—a cost considered to be “overhead” in traditional funding models but that is necessary to disrupt traditional models.

Lessons:

  • Communities need to have a deep understanding of the community-level contextual factors that affect families’ opportunities and constraints. Residents and long-established community-serving organizations are experts on many of these contextual challenges and can provide important insights to orient community-based work, alongside a traditional scan of community data indicators.
  • Identifying key concepts and goals at the outset would help orient future work. Setting out a framework for two-generation efforts that includes not only the types of services, but also the nature of the coordination and alignment that should bring them together, could improve coherency in family experiences.
  • Despite the emphasis on racial and ethnic equity and inclusion and resources provided by the Foundation, it was difficult for community partnerships to internalize and operationalize key concepts, especially midcourse. Disrupting racist paradigms requires real power-sharing that not merely includes families and communities but centers them in the development of strategies to break their own cycle of intergenerational poverty and gives them the necessary resources and tools to take action.
  • This type of work has potential stakeholders at multiple organizational levels. The FCCC experience suggests that engaging policymakers and government service providers, individual organizations, and resident families in planning and design may allow for new, creative opportunities to emerge.
  • Effective partnerships are complex but critical, and they take time to develop, often through trial and error. Determining key elements of partnerships explicitly in a way that all partners are comfortable with—including funding relationships, organizational culture alignment, development infrastructure, communications channels, and other dynamics—will increase the chance of successful, sustained organizational relationships.
  • It will be important for researchers documenting future efforts to try to understand how families fared as a result of their participation through an outcomes or impact study. Documenting the effectiveness of an intervention helps inform meaningful change efforts and makes the case for continued investment of energy, time, and financial resources. Such evaluation efforts should also be sensitive to the issues raised here, including the context, the framework and goals (including ideally a logic model or well-specified theory of change), and how community members and the various partners can be appropriately respected and involved in the research process so that the work is not extractive.

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated recession, the renewed attention on racial justice, and the turbulent 2020 presidential election occurred after the end of the grant and research period. As pressures from these changes continue and even after they are nominally over, service providers and other stakeholders will want to consider a purposeful approach to deal with social recovery and processing continued trauma rather than returning to business as usual.

Cross-Center Initiative

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