Ascending in New Mexico and LA: Power of Place

Sarah Haight | January 17, 2024 | Ascend Network

Since the launch of Ascend at the Aspen Institute in 2011, we have understood that context matters when it comes to two-generation (2Gen) approaches. That’s why taking a place-based approach has been critical to our work. Across the country, we are seeing family-informed and community-led innovations take hold to tackle economic insecurity and grow the prosperity of whole families. Whether it’s guaranteed income programs or combining mental health services with perinatal care for expecting mothers, community leaders from the public and private sectors are learning from and working with families to build well-being through a 2Gen approach.

At the same time, we know that demographic, economic, political, and historical differences among places mean that what works for one city or county may not be the exact formula for another. But there are principles, practices, and policies that can advance these approaches and bridge those gaps. One consistent reality is that practitioners are leading incredible work to meet the needs and skills of families with limited resources, but they don’t often have an opportunity to step back from the day-to-day work, learn from peers, and take a holistic look at how different systems align.

That’s why throughout 2022 and 2023, Ascend collaborated with partners in New Mexico and Los Angeles County to identify a roadmap for advancing 2Gen opportunities and innovations. In partnership with the Hilton Foundation, we designed a strategy with a focus on addressing barriers that young parents (ages 18 to 24) and their families face, as these families are more likely to live in households with low incomes. The strategy included four key components:

  • Recruiting, compensating, and engaging a cohort of Parent Advisors with lived experience to advise on and represent recommendations to practice and policy leaders;
  • A demographic analysis of young parents with children in each place;
  • A planning/strategy group and set of two convenings including more than 100 leaders in each place;
  • A collaborative framework and plan of action, including a landscaping of existing 2Gen opportunities, for organizations to use as a roadmap for their 2Gen next steps.

Here are a few key insights of our team’s place-based efforts to harness the power of the 2Gen field. 

New Mexico

New Mexico is one of the biggest and most rural states in the country. It’s also one of the most diverse, with young parents and their children more racially diverse than the broader population. However, nearly three quarters (73%) of New Mexico’s young parents currently live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

In recent years, New Mexico has emerged as a vibrant leader in the field of early childhood and as a model for how states can leverage financial resources. In November 2022, New Mexico became the first US state to amend its constitution to create a permanent fund for child care and early learning. The additional funding will expand access to pre-K in New Mexico by 40%, while increasing instructional hours for select programs, expanding the number of seats in classrooms, and increasing salaries of early childhood workers.

While child care funding and culturally appropriate programming have been major successes in the state, families and practitioners have cited a range of challenges that keep early care and learning out of reach. Direct service providers have an opportunity to collaborate with policymakers to create more affordable, accessible, and flexible child care options so families can thrive.

Read through more breakthroughs and opportunities to strengthen support of young parents and their children across the state. Download our latest report, Meeting Young Parents Where they Dream: A Collaborative Framework for a 2Gen Approach in New Mexico.

Los Angeles County, California

Los Angeles County has the largest population of any county in the nation, and its population is exceeded by only eight states. A disproportionate number of young parents and their children in LA County live below the poverty line. With a population and economy larger than many states and even some countries, it is critical to explore the experiences of young parents in LA County. 

A powerful lever for LA County’s 2Gen work is the county’s Poverty Alleviation Initiative, which has set forth goals for multi-sector leaders to collaborate around, including reducing food insecurity, increasing housing affordability, addressing mental health challenges and disparities, and increasing access to flexible, affordable child care, particularly for parents who work or wish to attend school. 

Going forward, Ascend will work with partners in LA County to strengthen these collaborations and engage a group of Parent Advisors in sharing barriers and opportunities with the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, among other policy leaders.

Check out a range of recommendations and policy opportunities that are most ripe for action to better support young families. Download this report, Meeting Young Parents Where they Dream: A Collaborative Framework for a 2Gen Approach in LA County.

More powerful, forward-thinking place-based efforts have emerged across the country with a focus on elevating programmatic impact and insights to influence policy change. Maine recently convened their first-ever statewide 2Gen Summit, SVP Tucson in Arizona has spearheaded collaborations through social capital events, and Maryland has an impressive ecosystem partnership designed to strengthen and streamline services for families with low incomes.

With solutions in communities across the country, local and federal policymakers must listen and act boldly to change the course of children and families.

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