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To Break Cycle of Poverty, Focus on Education of Mothers and Children

Reports: “Thriving Children, Successful Parents: A Two-Generation Approach to Policy” and “Mother’s Education and Children’s Outcomes: How Dual-Generation Programs Offer Increased Opportunities for America’s Families”

Organizations: The Center for Law and Social Policy, or Clasp, and the Foundation for Child Development, respectively

Authors: For Clasp, Stephanie Schmit, Hannah Matthews, and Olivia Golden. For the Foundation for Child Development, Donald J. Hernandez, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Jeffrey S. Napierala of the State University of New York at Albany

Summary: A broad disparity exists between the children of mothers who did not graduate from high school and children whose mothers graduated from college. Be it in income, health, school enrollment, or reading and mathematics proficiency, the educational attainment of the mother is a leading indicator of the success of the child. Because transformative social policies are normally targeted toward children or mothers separately, the effect is limited and the intergenerational cycle of poverty threatens to continue.

But when such policies are applied to mothers and children in tandem, and with an emphasis on high-quality early-childhood education and training for high-wage/high-demand jobs, and with family and peer support services, a number of effects are noted. In particular, children show improved educational outcomes and the earnings of adult workers increase. Dual-generational programs also provide resources that help low-income families to overcome barriers to educational and economic success.

However, while job-training and postsecondary-education programs for adults may aim to increase their economic success, such programs must take into account the adults’ obligations as parents. Both reports praise CareerAdvance, a program in Tulsa, Okla., that couples Head Start and Early Head Start programs for children with education and training for parents in nursing or other health-care fields, with the added support of life coaches and financial bonuses.

Bottom Line: To combat poverty more effectively, programs should direct their focus and resources toward both children and mothers.

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