Winning the Ground Game for Families with Two-Generation Approaches

By Anne Mosle, Executive Director, Ascend at the Aspen Institute VIEWS 11

This spring I had the privilege of joining the National Governors Association in their first Two-Generation State Policy Forum in Salt Lake City. Having been with a core circle of state policy leaders over the past few years on this very topic, I was exhilarated to see 22 states teams either working on or exploring two-generation approaches. This is a big deal!

Rooted in early vision – be it from indigenous communities, the settlement house movement, or others – the level of attention and interest in focusing on the strengths and needs of children and parents together over the past few years has been incredible. For too long, families have been forced to fit into fragmented systems, jumping through numerous disconnected hoops, instead of policies and services meeting families where they are, with a focus on whole family success and economic security.


It has been fifty years since President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed a “War on Poverty.” President Obama, in his State of the Union addresses, has made bold recommitments to ensuring that Americans’ ability to get ahead is determined by hard work and ambition, not by the circumstances of our birth. In his FY 2017 budget, he put those words into action when he requested $136 million in two-generation resources. New federal efforts like Rural IMPACT, the TANF State Policy Academies, and the Department of Labor $25M in funding for workforce and childcare together are some of the more recent two-generation advances. These national initiatives are coupled with a wave of community collaborations – perhaps collective impact models – that are both fueled and focused by the 2Gen approach.


For the millions of American families living in a perpetual state of economic insecurity, either in poverty or on the brink of poverty, these actions offer hope and concrete opportunity. And we can never overlook the importance of engaging the voices and expertise of families. They are tenacious and resilient, and we must tap that strength – through old-fashioned listening and through protocols such as motivational interviewing or using a coaching versus compliance mindset.


Pioneering human services leaders in Colorado, Hawaii, Tennessee, and Utah have embraced two-generation approaches to further focus their significant resources and services effectively in support of the children and families in their states. They are bringing departments that serve children first, such as child welfare and early childhood, and adult focused programs, such as TANF and job training, together. They have sparked a more strategic use of data systems and focus on outcomes for children and their parents versus simply complying. Equally important, they are investing in strengthening the culture of service and an appetite for change within their teams.


As we prepare for the APHSA National Health and Human Services Summit, I am confident that the conversations, commitment, and innovation will continue to deepen. The Summit will be a critical and timely opportunity to explore policy developments in Medicaid flexibility, the completed state WIOA plans, new Childcare Development Fund regulations, recently issued TANF information memorandum on two-generation approaches, and even the recent reauthorization of Every Student Succeeds through a 2Gen lens.


Making family economic security a reality will require partnerships at all levels (community, state, national) and with all walks of society (business, philanthropy, research, families themselves) to create paths to opportunity. Human services leaders are well positioned to leverage this moment of opportunity and catalyze new public-private partnerships and community collaborations focused on children and their parents.


To aid those partnerships, Ascend is pleased to share the first Two-Generation Outcomes Framework. It was developed with rigorous feedback, contributions from the field, and support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Urban Institute. It is our gift to you!


As a member of the APHSA Executive Governing Board and Executive Director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, I am energized about the momentum in the field and the leadership of the frontline human services leaders and their agencies. As we move forward, let’s keep an eye on our shared “north star” of building educational success, economic assets, and health and well-being for children, parents and families.


Onward, we go – in our commitment to ensure that all children and parents have the opportunity to reach their full potential. It is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.




"When you work with families, it’s important to respect us and meet us where we are."– Tameka Henry, Parent and Policy Advocate, Acelero Learning at the 2015 Aspen ThinkXChange


"We need to dispel the fallacy that we don’t know what to do about poverty. We do. And we need to train the workforce that’s out there to do it right and do it with some fidelity." – Raquel Hatter, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Human Services


"I’m really focused on how we build systems from the family up. Healthy families can only live in healthy communities." – Reggie Bicha, Commissioner, Colorado Department of Human Services