We know that when parents have access to programs that further their education and skills while their children receive quality early education, both generations have a fairer shot at success.
The Bell Policy Center is working with Civic Canopy to provide research and policy development support to the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI) Learning Community. SWFI is a collaborative project at Community Colleges of Aurora and Denver that is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and Gary Community Investments to help participants access jobs in high-demand careers such as IT, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing. What sets the program apart is the commitment to a two-generation approach to serving students, including education, job readiness and placement services, and addressing child care barriers.
The program helps students cover tuition and other costs of attendance and find child care for their children, including help navigating the Colorado Childcare Assistance Program (CCCAP). It also provides academic and employment coaching and works with employers after the students are placed in jobs to ensure the students’ child care and other needs are met. The goal is that students will obtain the needed education to get the initial job, and return to school over time to get additional certificates and degrees to help them advance in the workplace.
The Learning Community brings together stakeholders—educational partners, employers, service providers, child care providers, and the students themselves—to learn what programmatic and systemic changes would help students and their families succeed.
Our research team recently shared some initial findings at the Learning Community Kickoff on June 12th. These findings were based on focus groups and interviews with students and stakeholders as well as a literature review to identify best practices in two-generation programs.
Our research team has found that SWFI is already using many of the best practices. Those best practices for supporting student parents include:
- Ensuring access to high-quality child care
- Providing navigators and coaches for student parents
- Listening to the student parents in the program and honoring their views and desires
- Not treating children and families as “barriers” to education and work success
- Taking a holistic approach to streamlining and improving support systems
- Including community partners based on where participants access the system and experience barriers
- Creating an active community of stakeholders to drive systems change
- Collecting and using data to track and share SWFI parent and child outcomes
Our focus groups with the students found that:
- In addition to child care, many also faced barriers in terms of housing and the high costs of rent, transportation, food insecurity and the lack of flexibility in work and class schedules;
- They prefer having family, friends and neighbors watch their children as opposed to enrolling them in a child care center;
- “Family friendly” structures and approaches found at the colleges, employers and in the broader community are critical to helping the students achieve their goals.
- Students have very positive views of the SWFI program saying that it has made a difference in their lives and without it they probably would not be able to complete their schooling.
The Learning Community will be meeting quarterly to share results and develop strategies to overcome barriers and improve outcomes for students and their families. The Bell Policy Center will continue its research and policy development support for this project as well as its ongoing work to advance two-generation approaches.