Improving families with Two-Generation approach

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A new community initiative aiming to increase Evanston families’ self-sufficiency has just wrapped its 13-week pilot program.

The Evanston Community Foundation’s Two-Generation Education Initiative provides educational, financial and career guidance for parents — and high-quality early education for their children up to age 6 through enrollment in community-partner programs.

“Far too often families are so busy moving through life doing their best to meet their family’s needs with little time to intentionally plan their future,” said Artishia Hunter, the initiative’s director. “The Evanston Two-Generation pilot is designed to provide a setting for parents to explore their education and career options, and create a plan that outlines goals for becoming financially self-sufficient.”

The Evanston Community Foundation implemented this program following a grant from the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit dedicated to education and policy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. Two researchers from Northwestern University — developmental psychologist Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and senior research scientist Teresa Eckrich Sommer — are conducting research on these types of two-generation initiatives. Their research has also helped guide Evanston’s program.

“Young parents are kind of in a bind. They can have a hard time getting a job and getting a job that pays enough,” said Sara Schastock, president and CEO of Evanston Community Foundation. She added sometimes people fall into the sphere of for-profit training programs and the debt accrued adds another stressor if, say, you have $19,000 in debt, but have a job that pays $16,000 a year.

The initiative’s first 13 families were recruited from early childhood programs associated with the Evanston Community Foundation. All of the enrolled parents are Evanston mothers with varying backgrounds, ranging from 20 to 38 years old.

“They’re all at different places and share different things with me,” Hunter said.

Five or six are married, the rest are single. Their education ranges from bachelor’s degrees to GEDs or high school credit hours. She described a 20-year-old mother, who has a 5-month-old child, who is currently taking a class while working. Hunter said this mother wants to go back to school and to balance childcare, and is trying to get a little bit more stable childcare.

Another mother is at home with her three children.

“When she had her last child, it was literally cheaper for her to come home than pay for childcare. She wants to start taking classes now and has 18 years experience working in early childhood,” Hunter said.

The 13 weeks of this initiative included group sessions of core information where the women took inventory of their experience and skills, learned about education opportunities and financial literacy. They took time to outline their goals and how to get there.

“We think this project is a wise investment in the parents of young children who are growing up in a low-income household because we are opening pathways to education and training for parents (so they will have access to better-paying work and resources to support their children) and because research shows that the children’s achievement grows as levels of parental education increase,” Schastock said.

“It’s helpful if you have a repertoire on deck,” Hunter said. “Some [of the women] are very well-resourced. Some are not. Some are at different places of navigating the system or different comfort of calling and finding out. I front load the information,” she said. “My role in a way is holding them accountable to some things, talking their way through situations that can be a barrier, how can we make it something to push through.”

Hunter is also familiar with what these families are going through.

“I was a young parent, I just know what it’s like. I know when I went back to school, there were things that I found out that made a direct impact in me as an individual,” she said.

For the future, Hunter said the program wishes to support the families for six more months. The researchers from Northwestern will interview the families in focus groups for feedback as well.

“We want to stick alongside them a little bit longer to meet with them. We’re also considering how to bring the group together once a month, to continue developing their network and their cohort,” Hunter said.