Q & A with Elaine Zimmerman

A Question & Answer Session with Elaine Zimmerman of the CT Commission on Children, Regarding Two-Generational Initiative

Q: Why is there a “buzz” about two-gen?

A: Over the last several decades, the family has been fragmented in service delivery and consumer voice by the mechanisms of funding and the discrete functions of various non-profit and government agencies. Two-gen puts the family back in the center - not the provider or the funds.

Q: What makes this different from other approaches?

A: Two-gen addresses a problem that has bedeviled families for many years: the social services they need are “siloed,” forcing them to go to one agency for one service, then to another agency for another service, and so forth. Worse, these agencies often don’t communicate and co-ordinate with each other, which creates more headaches for families in the form of duplicative paperwork, needless waiting, and conflicting information. Two-gen gives an opportunity to deliver services more effectively and more efficiently.

For instance, we don’t yet coordinate efforts to help a child succeed in school with efforts to help that child’s parents succeed in the workforce. If we can help the parents place their child in a good school-readiness program, it will give them the time and trust they need to move forward with such essentials as learning English, finishing high school, and employment training. Even better, if these programs are co-located (such as a child-care center in the same building as a GED program) or linked with transportation for parents without cars, it will render them more accessible and therefore more successful.

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Elaine Zimmerman, CT Commission on Children

Q: What do you hope to achieve?

A: In creating the 2015-17 state budget last spring, the Connecticut General Assembly earmarked $3 million for the creation of a pilot program for two-generational approaches. It will operate in six communities: Bridgeport, New Haven, Colchester, Meriden, Norwalk, and the Hartford region. Once all the participants in those communities are fully trained, they will submit plans for their sites. With evaluators assisting them at every step, they will enact those plans and carefully gather data to help determine whether (and how) two-gen can be expanded. Among the questions to be answered:

  • Does intentional two-generational planning create better school outcomes for the child, employment for the parent and less stressors for the family?
  • What are the cost savings, if any?
  • What do we need to change in how we do service delivery and run government to help our customers be economically self-sufficient and successful?

Q: How can we meaningfully engage parents to shape this effort?

A: Families are the entire focus of two-gen, so parent input at every stage of development is essential. At each pilot site, the plan will be parent-informed. Parents will have the authority to not only give input and feedback, but guide the program and policies. They are the customers, and we will rely on them to tell us what is or isn’t working. They will be part of the policy and program trainings, have opportunity to be interns, work peer-to-peer to bring parents in with real outcomes and perform outreach to assure that parents know about this two gen opportunity. Entrepreneurial ideas will be assisted by business leaders, to help parents build in creative opportunity. We are also talking about a mobile two gen parent van that would spread the word-parent to parent.

Q: How does two-gen fit with other initiatives in Connecticut?

A: Two generational work is an effort to reduce the cycle of family poverty and to create more intentional coordinated services and programs for both parent and child. The goal is school readiness and school success for the child and workforce readiness and workforce success for the parent.

This work dovetails well and partners with, among others: a) the state’s early-care and education programs; b) home visitation programs, c) fatherhood initiatives, including an innovative effort in Waterbury to assure the engagement of non –custodial parents; d) TANF efforts to reach out to both dads and moms; e) Second Chance and restorative justices as well as f) Secure Jobs, the two-year demonstration pilot designed to increase the income of families transitioning from homelessness to housing by connecting them to the education, training, and supports they need to secure and maintain stable, competitive employment.

Q: What have other states learned with this approach?

A: This effort is emerging as we speak. Cities and states are learning from each other. For example, through the Aspen Institute, NGA and NCSL, we are sharing data and experiences. Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Maryland are undertaking versions of two-gen, and we are all beginning to share data and experiences.

Q: How can we ensure that two-gen has staying power?

A: If the customer finds this useful and successful, it will work.

Excellence in design and planning will help drive the direction.

Constant monitoring and fine-tuning are essential. That, in turn, requires detailed data. We will look at: a) child, b) parent, c) family, and d) systems change outcomes. We are raising the funds now to begin with the evaluation design in all site implementation.

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