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Anti-Poverty Program Research Gets Media Attention

Can a two-generation approach succeed where other programs have failed?

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June 12, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The work of a Northwestern University researcher investigating two-generation anti-poverty programs -- programs that simultaneously target low-income parents and their children to improve families’ overall economic prospects -- caught the attention of the Washington Post last month and, this month, of Catalyst Chicago. 

In the 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson introduced the War on Poverty, anti-poverty programs typically have been designed to help either children or their parents -- but rarely both at once. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Northwestern associate provost and Frances Willard Professor in the School of Education and Social Policy, earlier this year launched a two-generation pilot program in Evanston.

Called Career Explorations, the project is being conducted in partnership with the Evanston Community Foundation and the Aspen Institute. Teresa Eckrich Sommer, senior research scientist at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR), and developmental psychologist Chase-Lansdale are studying its implementation and designing a long-term evaluation of its impacts.

Why the interest in two-generation programs? “It’s not reasonable for a child to be the only change-agent in a family that’s facing economic hardship,” Chase-Lansdale said in the Washington Post article titled “The New War on Poverty.”

The article in Catalyst Chicago, an independent newsmagazine on school improvement efforts, described the experience of an Evanston mother and recent graduate of the 13-week pilot project, which also includes up to a year of individual coaching sessions.

At a briefing sponsored by IPR, Chase-Lansdale and Sommer spoke to an audience of Evanston parents, leaders and community members about their research on a similar Oklahoma-based two-generation project. Like Evanston’s Career Explorations program, the Oklahoma initiative combines high-quality childhood education with free community college-based classes for parents.

“We know that mothers in the program highly value many elements in it,” Sommer says. “These include making peer connections with other mothers, forging relationships with local  education providers and employers, learning how to set educational and career goals and increasing financial literacy.”

The Northwestern researchers say their next step is assessing the impact of those program elements on parents’ educational attainment, employment and assets and on their children’s learning and development.

Can the two-generation approach be implemented cost-effectively and produce long-lasting impacts? “There’s good theoretical and anecdotal evidence, but this opens up a vibrant learning opportunity where we can analyze how beneficial these programs are for children and parents alike,” Chase-Lansdale told Catalyst Chicago. The results to date are promising, she says, and the time is ripe for innovation, experimentation and further study.

Topics: Neighborhood, Research