Two-Gen Programs Aim to Break Cycle of Poverty

At United Way for Greater Austin, we focus on wrapping our arms around entire families and fighting the root causes of poverty. A family living in poverty rarely struggles with only one factor causing their situation, and therefore cannot rise out of poverty by only receiving one type of aid or only one person in the family receiving help.

As an example, let’s say Diane is a single mom of three children. Diane is working fulltime making minimum wage during the day and also has a side job at night to make extra money. She must pay for childcare for her youngest child during the weekdays, and is having trouble making ends meet to pay the rent, put food on the table and clothing on her children’s backs.

She has no opportunity for promotion at work as she only speaks Spanish and only has her GED. As a result, she is also struggling with depression and feels she has no support. Her oldest child watches the other two after school, and he is struggling with grades and never has time or help with his homework because of this.

If Diane receives one service, such as food stamps, this will help her put food on the table—but the fact remains that the family is still unable to be lifted out of poverty due to the variety of other factors affecting them.

This is where two-generation, or “two-gen,” programs come into play.

Many programs focus solely on low-income children or low-income adults, ignoring the fact that economic and social challenges affect whole families. Two-generation programs are a relatively new way of looking at programming that aim to help the entire family break the cycle of poverty by intentionally focusing on the different needs of both parent and child.

Two-gen programs explicitly target low-income parents and children from the same family, providing intensive and high-quality services for both, leading to family stability and self-sufficiency.

For parents, these programs can include parenting education, literacy and basic educational skill-building, English as Second Language (ESL) classes and workforce training for jobs that pay well and offer opportunities for advancement.

For their children, these programs can include health and education services, home visiting, early childhood education, and afterschool and summer programming.

For it to make an impact, the various programs must be well-coordinated and work together to make it easy for the families to participate and succeed. One example of how coordination works is to have the parent’s workforce training and child’s early childhood program taking place in the same building at the same type in an area close to where the family lives.

When services for children and their parents are coordinated, children benefit from the improved environments provided by both parents and early education settings, and parents’ motivation and workforce participation increases as they see that they can be role models for their children. When children gain enhanced language and behavioral skills from their programming, their parents respond with increases in cognitive stimulation and reduce punitive parenting. Additionally, they are both learning skills that can help them be self-sufficient for the rest of their lives, rather than needing to rely on constant outside resources and aid.

Research backs this new two-gen strategy and has shown that improvements in the situation of one generation in a family have profound positive effects on the outcomes of the other generation. United Way for Greater Austin is working to integrate this strategy into our work to make the biggest impact possible on local families.

UWATX recently welcomed Amit Motwani to our Success By 6 team as our new Two-Gen Manager.

Amit brings a unique blend of commercial technology and nonprofit administration experience. He most recently served as director of education and social services at El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission here in Austin, where he’s lived for more than 21 years.

Over the last decade, he’s worked at all levels of nonprofit administration, from direct service to director, having developed a profound familiarity with local provider organizations and services. Amit’s experience working with families directly informs his belief that individual, family and community outcomes are inextricable—and that two-gen is an optimal approach to service provision to families, fostering and strengthening the family unit by addressing the social determinants of health through a multi­generational approach.

We are excited about the future of our work in which we can impact entire families and make lasting changes. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates on our two-gen work coming soon!

Learn more about how two-gen programs work on the Aspen Institute’s website.