The numbers on their own are alarming, but the greater threat is found in the lives of the children behind these statistics. Not only will their childhoods be more difficult as their parents struggle to feed them, clothe them, keep them safe and place them in decent schools, but they are more likely to end up poor as adults. The situation is most dire for children of single parents, particularly single mothers.
Upstream solutions that enable systems change to stop the cycle of poverty in these families will require innovative thinking and targeted risk-taking not seen in previous anti-poverty programs. With irregular success, current efforts have focused on either the parent or the child, but rarely both.
Ascend, the Family Economic Security Program at The Aspen Institute, and recent four-year grant recipient of Chambers Family Fund, is a hub for breakthrough ideas and proven strategies that move parents, especially women, and their children beyond poverty toward educational success and economic security. Ascend takes a "two-generation" approach in its strategy, focusing on both parents and their children.
The need for such a strategy is evident in the feelings and experiences recently shared by low-income parents at a series of focus groups convened by Ascend last fall in Denver, New York City, Albuquerque, Detroit and Los Angeles. Parents said they faced constant instability, felt they had little control over their economic well-being, and were fearful about their long-term financial security. The most optimistic group among them was one of the most vulnerable - single mothers. Low-income single mothers believe their children will have better lives than they do. They want their children to get a good education and to avoid making the same mistakes they feel they have made. What all of these parents want is what every parent wants - to make a better life for their children.
A two-generation strategy addresses the needs of parents and children together in a more sustainable way. For example, a community college with on-site, quality, early childhood education could offer parents the opportunity to further their education while their children are increasing their vocabularies and preparing to start kindergarten ready to learn. A Head Start early childhood program could connect the children’s low income parents to job training and continuing educational opportunities.
To fulfill this ambitious strategy, Ascend focuses on three key areas - education, economics and social capital to:
• fundamentally change the conversation about low-income families;
• engage across diverse sectors to develop a network of leaders and political will; and
• convene forums and create platforms to elevate effective two-generation policies and community solutions.
One of the key programs that will promote the development and dissemination of two-generation anti-poverty programs is The Ascend Fellowship. The program invests in established leaders who are focused on breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty by increasing the impact of their work, strengthening their leadership capacity and networks, fueling their passion, and, most importantly, inspiring great ideas linked to action. Through four customized leadership forums, fellows will deepen their collective intellect and accelerate their impact. Fellows also develop and execute an action plan that further fuels and amplifies their leadership and work, as well as tests/applies a two-generation approach.
Ascend is one way Chambers Family Fund is helping to promote upstream solutions in pursuit of a fair and just society that ensures true opportunity for all.
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