Across our state, nearly 18,000 young kids – a staggering one in five children age 5 and under – are growing up in poverty, living in families that are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table.

More than 50 years ago, President Johnson declared a “War on Poverty.” But despite our best intentions and trillions of dollars spent, the poverty rate has barely budged.

Decades of research have demonstrated that growing up poor can negatively affect a person’s chances of achieving success later in life. For instance, students from low-income families are 4½ times more likely to drop out of high school than those from wealthier backgrounds. Adults who grow up in poverty earn about half as much income over their lifetimes compared with those with more advantages right from the start. It’s not surprising that this often leads to a cycle of disadvantaged children growing up to head low-income families of their own in what is known as multigenerational poverty.

It’s time to recognize that the federal government’s current approach to poverty is disjointed and often overlooks the very nature of a family.

That’s why we believe so strongly in the potential of helping Mainers through what is known as a two-generation approach. This innovative method to fighting poverty includes comprehensive strategies that bundle together and target opportunities that serve both parents and their children at the same time. By developing and implementing strategies that reshape both child- and adult-focused services along two-generation lines, programs can better achieve a range of goals and increase a whole family’s chance of economic success and self-sufficiency.

We’re seeing good on-the-ground examples of these strategies taking root in places across the country. Here in Maine, the two-generation approach is being successfully applied in a Washington County initiative called Family Futures Downeast, which uses a collaborative and wide-ranging model to support the whole family.

Family Futures Downeast provides disadvantaged parents with the opportunity to attend college and to develop personalized strategies for moving through the barriers that have long made it difficult for them to succeed. Through a specialized curriculum, participants also receive a foundation in child development and effective parenting strategies, giving them the tools they need to be stronger resources for their kids.

Simultaneously, their children receive high-quality early education experiences through the local Head Start provider – putting the entire family on a path to economic security. The John T. Gorman Foundation is proud to be a supporter of this innovative Washington County program, which was also recognized by the White House Rural Council as a promising site that could have lessons for other endeavors across the country.

Responding to the need for two-generation approaches on a national level, Sen. Susan Collins, along with Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, recently co-authored the bipartisan Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act. This bill, the product of a years-long collaborative effort, would authorize a five-state pilot program to provide additional flexibility for states and local governments to improve the administration of federal programs using two-generation models.

The Two-Generation Act would also align and link existing departments already working to fight poverty, reducing redundancy and red tape and making sure that programs across different agencies complement each other. In addition, it would create an advisory group on multigenerational poverty to help improve coordination among programs. Finally, the bill would incentivize public-private partnerships to harness philanthropic and private-sector investments to implement proven social programs.

A child’s ZIP code should not determine his or her future success. For too long, we have watched the perpetuation of inescapable poverty have negative effects on the economic well-being of too many Maine families. The status quo isn’t working – and it’s time for a new approach. To truly change the future of our kids, we need to affect the present for their parents.