Two-Generation Strategies Toolkit


“The general pattern has been to focus programs on adults or focus programs on children but rarely, if ever, on both at the same time, resulting in fragmented approaches that leave one or the other behind. Two-generation approaches focus on the needs of both generations to interrupt the cycle of poverty.”

—Nebraska Intergenerational Poverty Task Force, Final Report, 2016

Cover of Two-Generation Approaches to Addressing PovertyA new approach to help families break the cycle of poverty is taking hold in states across the country.

This approach, commonly known as two-generation, intergenerational, multi-generational or whole-family strategies, simultaneously address the needs of parents and children to improve outcomes for the whole family. Two-generation approaches draw from findings that the well-being of parents is crucial to their children’s social-emotional, physical and economic well-being. And at the same time, parents’ ability to succeed in school and the workplace is substantially affected by how well their children are doing. Existing policies and programs mostly fail to acknowledge this connection, limiting their effectiveness and the ability of families to move themselves from poverty to opportunity.

Legislators play an important role in creating and sustaining these efforts, as evidenced by initiatives in several states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, Washington and others. This toolkit outlines and describes the fundamentals of two-generation approaches to addressing poverty, with a focus on opportunities for state legislators and their critical role in legislating, convening, partnering, championing, and coordinating funding.

Strategies that promote government efficiency while also achieving important outcomes for children and families have gained momentum in recent years. A survey commissioned by Ascend at the Aspen Institute shows legislators, state agencies and the public support this approach. With more than 1,000 adults over the age of 18 polled, the survey, Voices for Two-Generation Success: Findings and Messaging Tips from a National Survey, found widespread support for two-generation approaches across gender, race and political party. Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of a two-generation approach to help bring people out of poverty, particularly when focused on parents’ work skills training and education, as well as early care and education for their children.



Legislators generally are familiar with the plight of poverty in their states, and many have been involved with efforts to disrupt the cycle of poverty. It’s likely that most of these efforts have focused on a single population—either parents or children, but rarely both at the same time.

For many state leaders, two-generation approaches to improving the health, well-being and self-sufficiency of families are gaining momentum. By investing in cross-program and even cross-sector partnerships, states are starting to use existing programs and resources in new ways to achieve better outcomes for parents, children and communities. At the same time, they are motivated by finding efficiencies and realizing a return on their financial investment. Legislators have a critical role to play in bringing stakeholders together, holding state agencies accountable, and championing issues that benefit their constituencies and communities.

A strong and resilient economy requires a prepared workforce, stable communities and thriving families.  Historically, state agencies responsible for labor and workforce preparedness, education, health and human services have worked independently to address the deeply intertwined issues of poverty, unemployment, poor health, low levels of adult literacy, lack of school readiness and economic instability. In recent years, state legislators have been calling for increased collaboration and data sharing across these silos, and now more and more legislators are championing efforts to plan and execute this complex work through a two-generation approach.

Additional Resources

Kimberley Meinert and Hannah Matthews. Parents and Children Thriving Together: The Role of State Agencies in Crafting a Statewide Two-Generation Strategy. Washington, D.C.: National Governors Association and Center for Law and Social Policy, 2018

Jennifer Brooks, Sharon McGroder and Alexandra Cawthorne. Tackling Intergenerational Poverty: How Governors Can Advance Coordinated Services for Low-Income Parents and Children. Washington, D.C.: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2015.

Annie E. Casey Foundation, Advancing Two-Generation Approaches: Funding to Help Families Succeed, March 2017

Annie. E. Casey Foundation, Advancing Two-Generation Approaches: Developing an Infrastructure to Address Parent and Child Needs Together, July 2017

Annie E. Casey Foundation, Advancing Two-Generation Approaches: Integrating Data to Support Families, May 2018

Ascend at the Aspen Institute, State Human Services Model: Colorado as a Case Study for Policymakers, October 2016

Ascend at the Aspen Institute, Making Tomorrow Better Together, A Guide to Outcomes for 2Gen Policymakers

Ascend at the Aspen Institute, Making Tomorrow Better Together, Report of the Two-Generation Outcomes Working Group, March 2016

Ascend at the Aspen Institute, Colorado Guide to 2Gen, June 2017

Ascend at the Aspen Institute, Two-Gen Playbook, September 2016

Urban Institute, A Theoretical Framework for Two-Generation Models, Lessons from the HOST Demonstration, January 2016

The Bell Policy Center, Bound to Succeed: Two-Generation Approaches to Education in Colorado, October 2016

Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Features of Programs to Help Families Achieve Economic Security and Promote Child Well-Being, December 2017:

National Head Start Association, Two Generations Together: Case Studies from Head Start, January 2015

Scaling Up, Scaling Out: White Paper on Lessons from Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana and Nurse-Family Partnership, January 2017

Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Training with work experience for adults, not targeting welfare recipients, December 2017

Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Training with work experience for adult welfare recipients, December 2017

State Examples:

Colorado Governor’s Office, Two-Generation Approach

Colorado Department of Human Services, The Two-Generation (2Gen) Approach

Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, Two-Generational Approach

Mississippi Department of Human Services, Gen+

Nebraska Intergenerational Poverty Task Force, Final Report

Tennessee Department of Human Services, 2G for Tennessee