As we start a new year, there are unequivocal signs that we need to do better by Maine’s children. In the Pine Tree State, children experience abuse, anxiety, and economic insecurity at some of the highest rates in the nation.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In Maine and across the nation, a growing number of nonprofit organizations and states are taking a two-generation (2Gen) approach – which serves children and their caregivers simultaneously – and is proving to be uniquely effective in building a brighter future for families.

First developed in the 1980s, 2Gen approaches have gained national momentum over the last 10 years. They’re founded on a fundamental truth: the lives of kids and their caregivers are interdependent. Children thrive when their parents have what they need to succeed. Likewise, if kids are doing well, then it’s easier for the adults in their lives to tackle their family’s challenges and capitalize on opportunities – whether that means pursuing higher-paying careers, going back to school, creating stability at home, or attending to their own social, emotional or mental-health needs.

The John T. Gorman Foundation has seen the 2Gen approach’s effectiveness in improving whole families’ well-being in Maine and would like to see it strengthened and expanded across the state. That is why the foundation recently hosted a Maine 2Gen Summit with Ascend at the Aspen Institute, a national leader in 2Gen approaches. More than 130 community leaders, parents, and policymakers gathered to discuss the principles that have made the approach so successful in Maine, explore opportunities for collaboration and identify changes that need to be made on a practice and policy level to help more families thrive.

Three themes were evident throughout the day.


1. Collaboration is essential. No single organization can do the work on its own. To be effective, you need partnerships. In a program called Moving Families Forward, for example, Bangor Housing Authority is partnering with Boys & Girls Club of Bangor and others to provide workforce training opportunities for parents, quality early-childhood education for their kids and a myriad of support services that help strengthen the bonds both within the family units and in the community. In Portland, Northern Light Health Mercy Hospital, which provides housing and support for mothers in recovery at the McAuley Residence, is partnering with Southern Maine Community College and The Opportunity Alliance to offer education pathways for the moms and their kids at the same time. None of these organizations could provide these offerings on their own. Together, they can do so much more.

2. Partner with parents and caregivers to design and evaluate programs. In order for strategies to be effective, parent perspectives have to inform the direction. One of the first and most successful 2Gen initiatives in the state, Family Futures Downeast, grew out of focus groups with parents in Washington County. The program assists parents with low incomes in earning college credit while delivering quality early-learning opportunities to their children, along with wraparound supports like family coaching, tutoring, and workforce support. Family voice has remained at the center of their work since the program’s launch in 2016.

3. Measurement has to be meaningful. Measurement is important because families deserve to know if the programs they participate in are effective. But it’s not enough to look at single variables in isolation – programs must be evaluated by how successful they are in achieving positive results for all members of the family. This might include a combination of outcomes, such as changes in a parent’s income, a child’s progress toward developmental milestones or decreased stress in the home.

We’re excited about the 2Gen successes we’re seeing in Maine. The John T. Gorman Foundation, in partnership with Ascend at the Aspen Institute and others, will continue to support, test, and evaluate 2Gen initiatives, identifying best practices so that they can be shared broadly.

However, just like our partners, we can’t do it alone. Building a brighter future for our state’s children – by ensuring practice and policy reflect the interdependence of families – will take many hands.

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