Incorporating Two-Generation Approaches in Community Change
The Annie E. Casey Foundation launched Family-Centered Community Change (FCCC) in 2012 to support three local partnerships seeking to help parents and children in high-poverty neighborhoods succeed together. These partnerships, located in Buffalo, New York; Columbus, Ohio; and San Antonio, Texas, are each developing a more integrated set of services, including housing assistance, high-quality education, and job training.
Since 2013, the Urban Institute has been evaluating each initiative’s design, implementation, and outcomes for families. The theory behind the demonstration is that “two-generation approaches,” or coordinating high-quality programs and services for children and parents, can help break intergenerational poverty and move families with low incomes toward greater economic independence. This paper is one of a series of reports based on what we have learned from five years of observations from our research.
The three FCCC initiatives provide services including early childhood education and child care, partnerships with local elementary schools, after-school care, employment and training for adults, financial education, and coaching to help parents set goals and stay on target. All three initiatives operate within communities where families move frequently and have widely varying needs and within neighborhoods with long histories of racial segregation and systemic racism, changing job markets, demographic changes, and gentrification.
External Forces Affect the Ability to Change Communities
Many factors, including partnership strength, scope of effort, organizational capacity, and changes in funder priorities, affect the success or failure of a community change initiative (CCI). These initiatives are particularly challenging because they do not exist in a vacuum—broader forces affect the community.
This report describes important changes across six key domains: housing, local economic trends, transportation, school systems, early childhood education and child care, and the federal policy context. For each, we discuss major systemic changes, how they have played out in the FCCC communities, and their implications for the initiatives’ success.
The Housing Crisis
ising housing costs are driving FCCC families out of the initiatives’ targeted footprints in search of affordable options, making it more difficult for the initiatives to reach them with services and supports. Some of those who are staying in the area are experiencing rising rents, instability, and the threat of eviction, which can ruin their credit and undermine steps they have taken to improve their financial situation. Many face a genuine possibility of being doubled up or homeless.
Local Economic Trends
The low-wage market leaves even some of the most successful FCCC parents struggling with unstable jobs, low wages insufficient to sustain families without government assistance, and hours that are hard to manage. If parents can only access low-wage jobs, they will have difficulty affording the basics, let alone the resources that might improve outcomes for their children. Inflexible school and work schedules undermine their ability to balance work and family.
Nontraditional and unpredictable work schedules—common for workers paid low wages—compound transportation problems. Parents with several children who attend different schools or child care centers may find transportation especially difficult. Spatial mismatch—the fact that the initiative footprints are far from job-rich areas—makes it difficult to connect people with jobs that pay living wages. Without reliable and affordable transportation, parents cannot take advantage of training or job opportunities or get their children to school or child care on time.
Not Enough Child Care
All three communities have struggled to meet the demand for high-quality, affordable child care and have tried different approaches to increasing the slots available for FCCC families. The inability to support and sustain access to affordable, quality child care, the lack of public resources to address these gaps, and the significant costs associated with efforts to develop such care all create major barriers to providing the care that families need to improve their economic circumstances and children’s long-term development.
Elementary Schools Under Pressure
The added complexity of school choice undermines initiatives’ ability to focus on a particular school or geographical area and know the families they serve will benefit from investments in local schools. Instability in school systems, new chronic absenteeism policies, and funding inequity are challenges for FCCC initiatives. However, the FCCC teams’ experiences in the smaller Buffalo and Columbus communities also show the potential benefits of strong partnerships with local elementary schools.
A Rapidly Changing Public Policy Environment
The transition from the Obama era to the Trump Administration has brought volatility to the partnerships, with changes to federal funding streams and new policies that will affect these place-based initiatives and the people they serve. Increased uncertainty is creating more significant needs for stability and support. Uncertainty surrounds whether efforts to cut or limit the Affordable Care Act and federal safety net programs will be successful and whether the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will affect the flow of capital available for affordable housing and community development. The federal move to impose expanded work requirements on recipients of federal assistance could also affect FCCC families and possibly make it more difficult for parents to participate in training and education programs. San Antonio is also feeling the volatility and uncertainty of changes in immigration policy.
Lessons for the Field
The FCCC communities show that even in the current uncertain policy environment, local initiatives can succeed and help families with low incomes thrive. These three communities have all demonstrated the persistence, flexibility, and resilience it takes to create and sustain a comprehensive community initiative in the face of rapid societal and policy change.
The key lesson from the FCCC experience is not to give up in the face of large, contextual challenges, but that any community seeking to create a new two-generation community change initiative needs to prepare for these kinds of shifts. Initiatives must also be ready to address the structural racism that underlies many of these contextual challenges—poor housing, racial segregation, low-wage jobs, lack of quality child care, and struggling schools. Maintaining agility and flexibility is critical for both short-term successes and creating sustainable and lasting change.