How 2Gen approaches build family well-being

What is 2Gen?

Two-generation (2Gen) approaches build family well-being by intentionally and simultaneously working with children and the adults in their lives together. Many community-based programs focus solely on the child or the parent. The 2Gen approach does not focus exclusively on either children or adults because their well-being is directly interconnected. Instead, it takes stock of the family as a whole and uses a holistic, family-centered lens to understand the multiple dimensions of families and consider a variety of pathways for promoting positive outcomes. By working with families to solve problems, access new resources, and sharpen existing talents and skills, the 2Gen approach creates experiences and opportunities for all families to reach their full potential and for communities to thrive economically and socially. See more about the 2Gen approach in the call-out box to the right.

Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) is the national hub for ideas and collaborations focused on 2Gen approaches and served as a resources and technical assistance partner for the NextGen Initiative.  Kresge NextGen cohort members all are working towards developing and implementing comprehensive 2Gen approaches and offer promising practices and lessons that can inspire others in the human services field to advance these efforts. Through the NextGen learning journey, cohort members participated in special sessions at Leadership Academies focused on 2Gen approaches, attended a 2Gen webinar facilitated by Marjorie Sims, Managing Director at Ascend, and received technical assistance from Advisors to address 2Gen challenges and opportunities. Throughout the course of the learning journey, cohort members described how their use of 2Gen approaches supported their resilience and responsiveness to communities during the COVID-19 pandemic; by leading with 2Gen principles, cohort members had many of the tools and skills needed to respond to ongoing crises and trauma in holistic and person-centered ways.

By serving families as a whole, 2Gen approaches advance social and economic mobility and create opportunities for families to thrive economically. 2Gen approaches emphasize the provision of education, economic supports, social capital, and health and well-being to create a legacy of economic security that passes from one generation to the next and hold great promise for longer and better outcomes for families experiencing economic vulnerability. In practice, this can include shifting approaches to ensure families are receiving comprehensive and robust supports to thrive and aren’t limited by the bounds of one program or service.

For example, the Martha O’Bryan Center’s Family Success Network integrates child, parent, and family programming into a unified setting to improve education, economic, health, and social capital outcomes among Nashville’s families. This model is built from three pillars: (1) free, high-quality early childhood education programming, (2) access to employment opportunities with living wages and pathways up, and (3) practical resources that stabilize and strengthen families. Family-centered coaching and trauma-informed care coordination are central to this structure, as staff serve each family as an interconnected unit, facilitating a holistic understanding of family needs, challenges, and strengths in pursuit of resiliency, equity, and stability.

The Six Key Components of Two-Generation Approaches

The 2Gen approach has a robust vision for family well-being and has identified the essential experiences, supports, and resources that are necessary for families to survive and thrive. The six components of 2Gen approaches include:  

  • Social Capital – connections to people, information, and opportunities to give and receive support
  • Early Childhood Education and Development
  • K-12 Education
  • Postsecondary Education and Employment Pathways – access to quality education and clear career pathways
  • Economic Assets – financial stability
  • Health and Well-Being – access to health care and mental, physical, and behavior health improving opportunities

2Gen’s Guiding Principles

According to Ascend, these 5 principles should be embedded in 2Gen approaches:

  1. Measure and account for outcomes for both children and their parents. Outcomes are at the heart of true 2Gen approaches. Programs and policies should measure how well they serve the whole family. Ascend’s report, Making Tomorrow Better Together, details the intended outcomes of a 2Gen approach
  2. Engage and listen to the voices of families. Cohort members are committed to listen to families and ensure their perspectives and experience inform program and policy design. As Ascend notes, policies provide the scaffolding and structures that support parents; parents themselves fuel and create their family’s successful path toward economic security.
  3. Ensure equity. 2Gen strategies should evaluate and fix structural problems that create gender and/or racial and ethnic disparities in the ways that programs provide services and assistance. Many current funding streams and policies do not reflect the demographic realities of 21st century American families, where one in four U.S. children is growing up in a single-parent family, many headed by women, and where children and parents of color are disproportionately low-income.
  4. Foster innovation and evidence together. Tap insights from prior evidence-based research and build a deliberate pipeline to ensure innovation. Policies and organizational cultures should encourage the integration of innovation into emerging evidence and evaluations of effectiveness.
  5. Align and link systems and funding streams. Rarely will single funding streams fully address all the needs of children, parents, and families. Programs will need to blend and coordinate funds to deliver 2Gen services. Aligning and linking systems at the state and community level — eligibility standards, performance benchmarks, and coordinated administrative structures — while simultaneously pursuing improved outcomes for both parents and children will lead to 2Gen success.

Key Takeaways and Insights

Guiding Questions

As part of the NextGen Learning journey, some of the questions explored related to 2Gen approaches include:

  1. What would it take for your organization to move to or strengthen a 2Gen approach?
  2. What does operationalizing and embedding 2Gen and whole family approaches look like in practice? What can we learn from the NextGen cohort’s 2Gen practices and strategies?
  3. What 2Gen policies and practices should the field advance or consider in order to support social and economic mobility?


Integrating Services Intentionally

Given 2Gen’s focus on fully addressing the needs of children, parents, and families, it’s important that programs and departments are aligned and linked so organizations can respond to families in a coordinated way. As Ascend notes, “rarely will single funding streams fully address all the needs of children, parents, and families.” Consequently, funding, systems and structures at the state and community level need to be blended and coordinated in order to effectively deliver 2Gen services (e.g. via aligned eligibility standards, performance benchmarks, and coordinated administrative structures). In practice, this means shifting from a model of referrals to a model of seamless integration. Integrated models allow agencies to work with families collectively and remain responsive to their needs while reducing the burden of referrals and multiple intakes. For example, Olmsted County Community Services uses an integrated service delivery model, where the agency has social services, public assistance, corrections, public health, veterans' services, and the housing authority all in one organization. Specifically, their Pathways to Prosperity and Well-Being project supports families and reduces siloes with a team of “cross divisional staff” that utilize their Integrated Services Assessment Tool to ask families about their strengths and goals across all the social determinants of health. As they put it, their “Pathways Model is surrounding a family with services through our staff coming to families,” rather than referring families to multiple agencies.

“The momentum that we’ve been building with 2Gen and the lessons that we’ve learned over the past two years have helped us to work better together, even during this crisis…it’s been easier for us to work more intentionally together because we were already on that path and we were already serving families as a whole.”

Measuring Outcomes and Progress Towards Social and Economic Mobility

A critical component of advancing social and economic mobility through a 2Gen approach involves measuring and accounting for outcomes for both children and their parents. Outcomes are at the heart of true 2Gen approaches, as this allows programs to measure how well they are serving the whole family. In addition to tracking short-term outcomes for the whole family, cohort members cited the critical importance of capturing longitudinal data to measure the impact their services have on intergenerational poverty. As one cohort member stated, “we can track outputs and some short-term outcomes for each goal area, but we’d like to figure out if we can really impact long-term outcomes through our services and how to track them. For example, some outcomes are really long-term ---in 20 years, will the kids be better off? Can we affect inter-generational poverty?” Shifting from head counts to outcomes is something all cohort members were grappling with, and Mary’s Center has made some progress in this area. The newly established Briya and Mary’s Center Research Institute will work on longitudinal tracking models completely focused on defining and measuring impact across their services. They are building a Dataverse to help synthesize outcomes data and “use data-driven decision-making to guide day-to-day system and program improvements for our families...while this question has not been answered, [they] are building capacity to access quality data, track results, and find answers over time that will strengthen 2Gen goals.”

Centering the Autonomy, Dignity, and Agency of Families with 2Gen Approaches

In practice, this often means shifting from being “program-centric” to being “participant centric”, which has been more important than ever as families experienced new challenges and levels of stress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. By engaging and listening to families to ensure their perspective informs program and policy design, 2Gen approaches seek to honor families’ autonomy and agency in creating a successful path towards economic security. Hispanic Unity of Florida employs a Family-Centered Coaching Model with a 2Gen lens, an alternative to traditional case management that is often directive and views the client or family as something to be fixed. Family coaching allows families to drive their service plan and identify goals based on what is needed for their success. HUF’s case managers “became Success Coaches in 2020 and they facilitate the road map families believe they need to follow.” As one staff member said, “We have changed the mindset and understand the need to occupy the passenger seat while our families drive their own path to success.” Further, HUF said that their 2Gen approach sets their organization on a path to work together more seamlessly because of its focus on integration and alignment of services that meet the needs of the whole family. As one leader explained, “through the trainings and through the work that we’ve done with 2Gen, [our coaches] are much more in alignment and communicating better in terms of how we are servicing the families.”

“Through the support of Kresge funds, we have been able to greatly accelerate and continue maintaining progress of our practice model which serves families in our Pathways cohorts. Because of this, the number of internal departments involved in Pathways has grown and is continuing to grow. We are moving closer towards integrated services division-wide, and it is becoming a deeper part of our organizational culture.”

Designing Policies with a 2Gen Lens

In addition to applying 2Gen approaches to programming, there is a need to reinvent our policies so all individuals and families can access the services and supports needed to achieve social and economic mobility. Currently, many human service agencies operate through discrete programs and benefits that are limited to individuals based on age, income, or other characteristics. A 2Gen approach requires shifting from policies that are restrictive and compliance driven to ones that are flexible and meet the holistic needs of a family. NextGen Advisory committee members mentioned policies like Universal Basic Income[1], presumptive eligibility[2], reparations[3], and wraparound supports[4] as ones that reinforce a 2Gen approach. Cohort members said that the pandemic has allowed them to "reinvent the safety net" and imagine "braver solutions" to improve social and economic mobility for individuals and families and support thriving communities. For example, cash benefits offered during the pandemic honored family’s autonomy to spend resources they see fit, compared to traditional social safety net programs that historically have rigid requirements and force families to jump through hoops to demonstrate they qualify for support. In practice, Allegheny County of Human Services was able to change eligibility requirements and offer flexible benefits in response to the pandemic.

Their Older Youth Pandemic Relief fund provided cash assistance with no strings, and they have no eligibility requirements to receive support from their family centers. Lastly, they require as little documentation as possible for emergency grant rental assistance, food resources, community learning hubs) with targeted outreach to families who would most benefit. To continue to build a bigger constituency of advocates that support social policies guided by 2Gen, it is important that 2Gen approaches are communicated clearly and carefully. To support this, Ascend commissioned a framing playbook and messaging guide that helps leaders, advocates, and families learn how to talk about 2Gen approaches in ways that build capacity and lead to productive public conversations on important policy issues.

[1] Universal basic income (UBI), or basic income guarantee, is a government program that aims to address economic inequality and provide economic security through monthly direct cash transfers to every member of a community with no means testing.

[2] Presumptive eligibility policies provide immediate coverage for clients while their application is being processed so they don’t have to wait to receive care

[3] Reparations are a system of redress for egregious injustices. Bill HR 40, introduced in the House, establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. The commission shall examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.

[4] Wraparound supports are individualized to families and ensure supports and services are based on a family’s needs, goals, desires and build upon a family’s values, culture and beliefs. Strategies used to meet those goals are based on the strengths of a family and the natural supports that are available in one’s community.


Participant Testimonials

What progress has your organization made
in the past two years?

“Hispanic Unity of Florida partnered with the Urban League of Broward County and Florida International University, to produce two reports published in 2022: The State of Black Broward and The State of Hispanic & Immigrant Broward. Both reports look at inequality through an equity lens and recommend areas of opportunity to change systems through public policy and advocacy.”–

Hispanic Unity of Florida