Academic journal article The Future of Children

Two-Generation Programs in the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Two-Generation Programs in the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt


Most of the authors in this issue of Future of Children focus on a single strategy for helping both adults and children that could become a component of two-generation programs. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, on the other hand, look at actual programs with an explicit two-generation focus that have been tried in the past or are currently under way.

These explicitly two-generation programs have sought to build human capital across generations by combining education or job training for adults with early childhood education for their children. Chase-Lansdale and Brooks-Gunn explain the theories behind these programs and review the evidence for their efficacy. A first wave of such programs in the 1980s and 1990s produced mostly disappointing results, but the evaluations they left behind pointed to promising new directions. More recently, a second wave of two-generation programs--the authors dub them "Two-Generation 2.0"--has sought to rectify the flaws of earlier efforts, largely by building strong connections between components for children and adults, by ensuring that children and adults receive services of equal duration and intensity, and by incorporating advances in both education and workforce development. These Two-Generation 2.0 programs are still in their infancy, and we have yet to see clear evidence that they can achieve their goals or be implemented cost-effectively at scale. Nonetheless, Chase-Lansdale and Brooks-Gunn write, the theoretical justification for these programs is strong, their early results are promising, and the time is ripe for innovation, experimentation, and further study.

In principle, two-generation programs have a unifying form: they explicitly target low-income parents and children from the same family. However, their structure and content vary widely. For children, two-generation programs can include health and education services, such as home visiting, early childhood education, and programs for children who have been exposed to trauma. Services for parents can involve parenting, literacy, learning the English language, earning a GED, getting a postsecondary education, treating mental health problems, and preventing child abuse and domestic violence, as well as case management and workforce development. In this article, we focus on a specific type of two-generation program: those that intentionally link education, job training, and career-building services for low-income parents simultaneously with early childhood education for their young children. These programs emphasize an investment strategy to build human capital for both children and parents, implying an intensive, extended approach. In the past five years, the appeal of a human capital two-generation perspective has led to a number of initiatives. Evaluation evidence for these recent innovations lags behind policy and practice, but theoretical support for two-generation programs is compelling.

This article integrates theories from developmental science, economics, and education to evaluate the assumptions that underlie two-generation programs, to outline possible mechanisms through which these programs affect children, to synthesize and critique what has been tried to date, and to describe emerging programs across the nation. Our bottom line: The jury is out and will be for some time regarding whether new human capital two-generation programs can be successfully implemented, as pilot programs or at scale. Very little data are available on whether the impacts on children and families are stronger than those of single-generation programs. Yet new approaches to two-generation human capital programs are worth pursuing and testing.

Brief History

The idea that the needs of vulnerable parents and children can be tackled together is not new. The concept was explicitly introduced with the launch of Head Start in 1965. (1) In the early 1990s, the Foundation for Child Development coined the term "two-generation program" and sponsored a book on the subject. …

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