Two-Generation Programs with Well-Tailored Services Hold Great Potential to Support Intergenerational Success of Immigrant Families, MPI Report Finds
WASHINGTON – Addressing the needs of low-income parents and their children simultaneously via two-generation programs that weave together early childhood services with adult-focused programs such as English literacy or workforce training hold great potential to support the successful longer-term integration of immigrants and their children, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report finds.
The report from MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, Serving Immigrant Families through Two-Generation Programs: Identifying Family Needs and Responsive Program Approaches, finds that programs that offer adult English instruction and build U.S. cultural and systems knowledge — particularly as they relate to parenting, child development and kindergarten readiness — are a key threshold service for many immigrant parents as they work to join the mainstream of economic and civic life in the United States.
Little research exists on the success of two-generation programs in reaching immigrant families. The MPI study, which examined a number of such programs across the United States working with immigrant families, concludes that the field must tailor its approaches to reach a population that faces specific barriers, including limited English proficiency and low levels of formal education. The report, which offers some of the factors for success of the programs studied, also provides an analysis of the sociodemographic characteristics of U.S. parents, whether immigrant or native born, with young children.
“Our analysis reveals that while immigrant parents possess particular strengths that are advantageous to their children, many also face a number of risk factors that make them prime targets for two-generation programs,” said Maki Park, a policy analyst with MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy and lead author of the report.
Immigrant parents lead an increasingly large proportion of U.S. families with young children (age 8 and under) living in poverty, comprising 23 percent (8.4 million) of these parents, according to the report’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data for 2010-2014. Twenty-four percent of these families live below the federal poverty level, compared to 15 percent for U.S.-born parents with young children. The overwhelming majority of young children in immigrant-headed households — 94 percent — were born in the United States and were therefore U.S. citizens at birth.
English and other adult education programs have often been the primary avenue through which immigrant parents with young children become engaged in two-generation programs. For example, Family Literacy and Even Start programs for decades have provided the first interaction that many such parents had with local government and community services. These programs have helped hundreds of thousands of immigrant parents improve their English skills, support their children’s early learning and kindergarten readiness and lead their families along a pathway to greater educational and economic success.
The federal government, in partnership with states, has supported such programs primarily through the Workforce Investment Act, which was reauthorized in 2014 as the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA). However, under the new WIOA performance accountability system, adult education programs are now assessed under the same measures used to judge workforce training programs. These measures, including transition to postsecondary education and attainment of credentials and postsecondary degrees, overlook the important “on-ramp” role played by parent-focused literacy programs, which face a significant risk of appearing to be failing under the law’s accountability metrics. The result could be possible loss of federal funding.
“This new report details key ingredients in the ‘secret sauce’ used by a diverse array of programs that support two-generation success in immigrant families,” said Margie McHugh, a report co-author and director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “And though WIOA’s implementation poses a serious threat to the field’s gateway service for many immigrant parents, states can take action to address the potential crowding-out of these programs, and draw lessons from the strengths of well-tailored initiatives to better leverage their early childhood and anti-poverty investments for the two-generation success of all families.”
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities.