Original Article: Social Innovations Journal
In a volatile funding environment, Diversified Community Services (Diversified) has sought to finance one social innovation with another social innovation. In 2014, the William Penn Foundation granted Diversified $438,000 over 30 months to implement Philadelphia’s first two-generation model. The two-generation model is a new approach to quality early childhood education that links workforce development services, family engagement and supported services, and quality early childhood education for low-income families.
While most anti-poverty programs focus their efforts either on adults or children, two-generation models provide opportunities for parents and children simultaneously. In other states, two-generational programming has been successful in reducing the student achievement gap, breaking the cycle of generational poverty by providing increased family supports and engagement, and moving the family towards economic security through education, workforce training, and related supported services.
While Diversified’s two-generation model was a worthy investment by the William Penn Foundation, sustainable funding after the initial 30-month grant will be hard to come by. Diversified intends to sustain this programmatic innovation with an innovation within its nonprofit business model. Diversified is seeking to open a for-profit business, whose profits will be used to produce sustainable earned income to fund its two-generation strategy.
The new two-generation model works off the assumption that educating young children while lifting their parents’ income simultaneously would be more effective in reducing generational poverty than serving them individually. While a number of two-gen programs have proven effective across the country, keeping them sustainable has been a challenge. Therefore, a cycle of poverty continues to repeat itself.
More than 400,000 Philadelphians live in poverty, about 26 percent of the population—the highest poverty rate among the nation’s 10 biggest cities. In Point Breeze, where Diversified Community Services is located, the poverty rate is 37 percent. The poverty rate among Philadelphia’s children is 39 percent.1 Research tells us that the biggest predictor of a child’s economic success is his/her parents’ level of educational attainment. According to the Brookings Institute, it takes about five generations for the advantages or disadvantages of family background to die in the Unites States. Therefore, many children in Philadelphia inherit a legacy of poverty that dates back generations.
Ross Thompson, a professor and research affiliate for the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, has written that children’s early social experiences shape their developing neurological and biological systems for good or ill. The kinds of stressful experiences that are endemic to families living in poverty can alter children’s neurobiology in ways that undermine their health, their social competence, and their ability to succeed in school and in life, says Thompson.2 Attempting to educate young children without stabilizing the home becomes an almost impossible proposition, because unsafe and stressful home conditions prevent the children from learning. Marjorie Sims, Managing Director at Ascend, acknowledges that the benefits of two-gen programs are biological as well. While research has shown that, in neurological terms, children in poverty face barriers to learning, two-gen programs do a great job at reversing those barriers.3
The Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources says that the goal of a two-generation strategy is to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty by moving the family toward economic security and stability through education, workforce training and related support services.4 Diversified Community Services is a multi-purpose nonprofit that provides quality, nationally accredited early childhood education in the Point Breeze community of South Philadelphia. But what makes it different from other quality childcare centers is that Diversified’s two-generation strategy provides opportunities for both parents and children. This strategy provides economic supports, social supports, and peer support services for the entire family.