There’s a lot of buzz in the world of social services and anti-poverty initiatives about “two-generation” service models (or “two-gen” to those in the know). Foundations, nonprofits, and government agencies such as the Aspen Institute and Annie E. Casey Foundation are championing two-generation approaches to breaking the cycle of poverty.
But defining a true two-gen initiative is more difficult than it seems. For many programs, it means simply offering services to both a young mother and her child. In a program like Head Start, two-gen can mean providing employment support for adults while their children receive early childhood programming.
The Urban Institute’s Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) Demonstration takes a more ambitious approach, attempting to meet the needs of the whole family—parents and children of all ages. Our new policy brief describes the challenges and rewards of this whole-family approach.
The first two sites to launch HOST services, Chicago Housing Authority’s Altgeld Gardens and Home Forward’s New Columbia and Humboldt Gardens, both struggled to implement a true whole-family approach. In practice, they learned that providing support to an entire household meant going far beyond just linking families to a set of community services. To truly benefit from such a model, the staff serving both adults and children had to become a unified team, communicating and collaborating to ensure they were meeting the needs of all family members.
UCAN, the lead service provider for Chicago, developed a system called “IDT,” or interdisciplinary team meetings, to increase information sharing and provide space for brainstorming and feedback. The meetings last several hours, include staff from various positions (case managers, service providers, mental health clinicians), and provide an opportunity to approach the needs of each family comprehensively and to revise that approach on a regular basis.
Thanks to this approach, we also learned that a multi-generational approach can be helpful for outreach. Sometimes engaging youth in a household helped bring in the adults, and vice versa.
The Portland team struggled with how to best serve immigrant families with large numbers of children. This year, they decided to collaborate with the on-site schools to identify the youth most in need of intervention. Expanding their outreach and engagement strategies means that HOST is reaching and serving multiple members of a household, beyond a single child and head of household.
HOST sites are continually fine-tuning what a whole-family approach means for their particular housing community. Throughout this ongoing process, the Urban Institute will document the lessons learned and tackle the challenges of evaluating these whole-family approaches. Stay tuned.
Photo from Project Match