Two generations. One future.

The Two-Generation Approach

What Is a Two-Generation Approach?

Two-generation approaches focus on creating opportunities for and addressing needs of both vulnerable parents and children together.

Two-generation approaches can be found along a continuum.  This graphic illustrates the starting point (parent or child) and the relative emphasis.  Whole-family approaches focus equally and intentionally on services and opportunities for the parent and the child.  Child-parent approaches focus first or primarily on the child but are moving toward a two-generation approach and also include services and opportunities for the parent.  Parent-child approaches focus first or primarily on the parent but are moving toward a two-generation approach and also include services and opportunities for children:


Graphic showing program continuum from child on left or parent on right to whole family in the middle.

There are three key components of the two-generation approach: Education, Economic Supports, and Social Capital. Health and well-being is an emerging component.

How Do We Apply Two-Generation Approaches?

Two-generation approaches can be applied to programs, policies, systems, and research.

Programs: Two-generation programs provide opportunities for and meet the needs of parents and their children together.  Spanning the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, two-generation programs exist along the continuum and range from established to emerging organizations.  To learn more about these programs, visit the Ascend Promising Programs Profiles.

Policies: A few programs worth examining for their potential to incorporate two-generation approaches include the Higher Education Act (e.g., changing Pell Grants to better take into account the financial needs of students who are parents), Head Start (e.g., developing programming that goes beyond parent engagement to create educational and workforce opportunities for parents), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (e.g., using resources to provide postsecondary education for parents linked to high-wage jobs in coordination with high-quality early care and education for children). 

Systems: Two-generation approaches can be applied to systems — formal (e.g., a municipal public housing authority, a statewide community college system) or informal (e.g., the patchwork of early childhood education funding streams that exists in many states).  These systems may be loosely configured or more integrated depending upon the state or community.

Research: A strong body of academic research is needed to build an evidence base that shows what works best for whom and to undergird effective policies, programs, and system change.  To learn more about the established and emerging two-generation research, visit the Resources section.