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A new era of family policy in New Jersey

| 14 Oct 2021 | 01:23

    We are at a moment in the nation – and in New Jersey – when a paradigm shift is in reach to update ineffective, top-down systems to be more responsive, effective, and equitable for all families.

    Today, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) provides unprecedented resources to improve the lives of families who are still reeling from COVID-19 and its economic impact as well as longstanding inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. And now Congress is debating a $3.5 trillion Budget Resolution which, if passed, will increase these resources even more.

    Luckily, there is a bold, pragmatic and proven strategy already in place that can serve as a model: the two generation (2Gen) approach.

    For the past 10 years, Ascend at the Aspen Institute has embraced the 2Gen approach to accelerate family prosperity. As illustrated in a recently released report, The State of the Field: Two-Generation Approaches to Family Well-Being, the 2Gen mindset and approach can drive forward-thinking, actionable policies that advance economic mobility for all families. It’s a modern approach to governance that includes and invests in the potential of all people across race, gender, ability, income and geography. 2Gen fosters human development and human potential, and if done well, will not only allow us to live up to our highest values, but will also yield tangible, pragmatic benefits. More importantly, it provides a proven blueprint for moving forward.

    The 2Gen approach defines well-being holistically, just as parents themselves define it. As a mom told us, “Well-being is happy, healthy and safe and family well-being is having a balanced life.” 2Gen strategies are shaped by parents’ voices and lived experiences and meaningfully work with families in five key areas: physical and mental health; early development, learning, and care; postsecondary and employment pathways; economic assets; and social capital. Advancing racial and gender equity is central to the 2Gen approach.

    Over the past decade, the 2Gen approach has shown that it is both transformative and practical. 2Gen leaders and practitioners have wrestled conceptually with what it means to place racial and gender equity at the core of our work and then applied those big ideas with purpose in pragmatic, tangible ways, from changes to intake forms to increase access to services to shifts in program titles and imagery to attract and welcome more fathers to parenting programs.

    In the process, across all levels of government and the public and nonprofit sectors, 2Gen leaders have listened and learned a lot about how to support and engage families in ways that foster and unleash their potential for health, wealth, and well-being.

    The modern, equity-centered 2Gen approach is being explored, implemented, and advanced by the Ascend National Network of over 440 partners across the country, including Catholic Charities Diocese of Metuchen, Pascale Sykes Foundation, Saint Peter’s University and United Advocacy Group, here in New Jersey.

    To date, 12 states, including here in New Jersey, have implemented 2Gen approaches to align and coordinate their agencies and strengthen programmatic supports for families, including linking child care and early learning programs to workforce development and economic pathways, adopting new models of home visiting, and creating effective parent and child supports as states seek more effective and equitable outcomes for children and families. The 2Gen approach has provided state agencies with a pragmatic and purpose-driven way to drive equity and well-being by shifting and aligning the gears of early childhood, K-12 education, postsecondary success, health and mental health, economic assets, and social capital.

    State momentum is having three major effects. First, many states are reviewing and aligning child- and adult-serving programs to put families at the center. A 2Gen analysis identifies ineffective practices that force families to navigate fragmented systems, inconsistent eligibility rules, or contradictory expectations, all of which set up barriers to good outcomes. Second, 2Gen has fostered new family-centered collaborations across public agencies to produce better child, parent, caregiver, and family outcomes. Third, 2Gen has catalyzed new community- and county-level partnerships.

    It’s time to place family well-being at the center of our national agenda. With new resources from ARP and possible additional investments from the Budget Resolution, we can pursue opportunities on what is actually working and open up a better way of serving parents and children together. As one mom told us about navigating the pandemic, “If we make it out of this, we will be unstoppable.” As New Jersey (and America) rebuilds, let’s make sure parents and families will have the tools and conditions they need and deserve to be unstoppable.

    Anne Mosle is Vice President, Aspen Institute and Executive Director, Ascend at the Aspen Institute. Marjorie Sims is Managing Director, Ascend at the Aspen Institute.