By Anne Mosle and Marjorie Sims / For The Herald
Many of Washington‘s families are still reeling from the events of the last year. The pandemic and its economic impact underscored how families with low incomes face systemic barriers and structural inequities that prevent them from unlocking their full potential to support their families and contribute to their communities.
The American Rescue Plan provides for unprecedented resources to improve the lives of families. As Gov. Jay Inslee deploys these funds, he can take immediate action to support children and the adults in their lives simultaneously, intentionally and effectively.
Ascend at the Aspen Institute focuses on improving outcomes for the whole family — children and their parents — by applying a two-generation (2Gen) approach and a gender and equity lens. Two-generation approaches build family well-being by intentionally and simultaneously working with children and the adults in their lives together. The 2Gen approach defines well-being holistically, just as parents themselves do.
A 2Gen approach involves working with families in five key areas: physical health and mental health; early development, learning and care; postsecondary and employment pathways; economic assets; and social capital. The ARP funds offer the opportunity to use proven 2Gen strategies to recover from the covid-19 pandemic while expanding long-term opportunities for all Washington families.
Two-Generation Approaches to Family Well-Being offers guidance to policymakers who want to translate the 2Gen mindset and guiding principles into forward-thinking, actionable policies that advance family well-being. Five recommendations from that report outline how states can use ARP funds to advance families’ potential and support community resilience:
• Develop a family well-being and equity framework. Align ARP funding with other federal funding, technical assistance, peer learning and evidence to achieve the outcomes families want and deserve. Gov. Inslee has been a national leader on this issue with his Poverty Reduction Work Group. The Blueprint for a Just & Equitable Future, Washington’s 10-year plan to dismantle poverty serves as a model for other governors who want to do right by all families.
• Create family policy councils to advise state agency plans for ARP funds. Two-generation approaches center on families and their strengths. Family councils and advisory roles — which have been piloted and refined by Ascend and leading state human services agencies — are a powerful governance innovation that give policymakers a proven way to authentically engage the perspectives, expertise and insights of parents, guardians and caregivers. The results are smarter policies and more robust public support. Building upon the lessons and practices of Head Start, parent policy councils would recruit and compensate parents to address, inform and develop recommendations on state inter-agency collaborations focused on improving outcomes for families with low incomes. In Washington state, models like the Poverty Reductiion Work Group’s steering committee and Head Start Parent Ambassadors, exemplify the power of having people with lived experience as partners.
• Create a 2Gen innovation and implementation acceleration program to fuel and scale the momentum of interest in the 2Gen approach as a mechanism to serve families effectively, holistically and equitably. 2Gen innovation funds would prioritize families with low incomes and those in underserved communities, and be made available through an application process requiring clear target goals, equity plans and performance measures. The resulting insights and innovations can inform foundational elements of Washington’s efforts to rebuild effective systems that advance economic mobility.
• Invest in community-wide partnerships and adapt existing postsecondary programs to provide support for students with caregiving responsibilities. As higher education grapples with declining enrollment numbers, investing in postsecondary pathways for student parents presents a growth opportunity and a chance to create more inclusive and equitable postsecondary experiences leading to degree and credential attainment.
• Scale community-based innovations. Look to models that we know work, such as the the Washington State Health Care Authority’s use of secured infrastructure money to build out nine Accountable Communities of Health that assisted integrating physical health and behavioral health services, helping to achieve better health care at a lower cost.
Let’s pursue new opportunities based on what is actually working; opportunities that can open up a better way of serving parents and children together. Bold, pragmatic, equitable and proven 2Gen strategies, together with the expertise and experience of Washington’s Ascend Network Partners, can open up new possibilities for families.
As one mom told us about navigating the pandemic, “If we make it out of this, we will be unstoppable.” As Washington rebuilds, let’s make sure parents and families will have the tools and conditions they need and deserve to be unstoppable.
Anne Mosle is vice president of Aspen Institute and executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute. Marjorie Sims is managing drector of Ascend at the Aspen Institute.