Colorado’s Nearly 2Gen Policies

2gen policies

Colorado has made strides to become a national leader in developing two-generation (2Gen) policies and systems, and the 2019 legislative session saw a continuation of that effort. Several bills that were introduced and passed represent beneficial and essential pieces of a comprehensive 2Gen strategy. While these efforts are significant, they still only account for a portion of a holistic approach to fully implement 2Gen policies.

What Are 2Gen Policies?

According to the Aspen Institute, a two-generation approach focuses on “creating opportunities for and addressing needs of both children and the adults in their lives together.” Such a focus provides simultaneous services, while also intentionally braiding and blending existing efforts to provide the greatest impact. The end goal of 2Gen policies is systems-level change that supports families and helps them thrive. Below are some examples of how Colorado advanced various components of a 2Gen approach to social policy during the 2019 legislative session.

Colorado’s Building Blocks for 2Gen Approaches

Support for Families

As we pointed out in our Guide to Economic Mobility, over 60 percent of Colorado children under the age of six live in a home where all primary caregivers work, demonstrating the importance of child care as a lever that promotes opportunity for Colorado families. High-quality, affordable child care is an essential 2Gen strategy, as it prepares children for academic and social success, while allowing their parents to work and advance economically, so alleviating these costs is vital to reinvigorating Colorado’s middle class.

The Employment Support Job Retention Services Program will create a grant program within the state Department of Labor and Employment, wherein the department would contract with local nonprofits and other entities to provide emergency support services to Coloradans seeking job training or preparation. Locally known as the “flat tire fund,” this emergency support could be used for last-minute child care (or to fix a flat tire) if something unexpected arises during a critical point in the training or hiring process. Such programs provide small dollar amounts to families, but can make a huge difference for those working toward economic mobility.

A Child Care Expenses Tax Credit for Low-Income Families will provide critical for working families, and for student parents (who make up about 22 percent of all college students nationwide). Such programs are vital to helping relieve the financial burden that necessities like child care place on our working families with young children, but they don’t guarantee child care will be available, or that it will be high quality. Despite months of work by the Colorado Fiscal Institute, the Child Tax Credit will not move forward this year, meaning Colorado has one less tool to help families.

Child Care Availability

Licensed child care is hard to come by in many Denver neighborhoods. North Denver’s Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea (GES) neighborhood has been classified by the Center for American Progress as a child care desert — a location with either no child care options or so few that there are more than three children for every licensed child care slot. GES is one of nine neighborhoods (out of 78 total in Denver) classified as a child care desert. This classification demonstrates quality child care is not readily available to every family who needs it, and this lack of care affects more than just one generation.

Developed and passed this session, the Infant and Family Child Care Action Plan mandates the state Department of Human Services to draft a strategic action plan to address child care shortages in Colorado. Also passed this session, the Early Childhood Special District Act empowers local governments to fund services for children from birth to age eight. Together, these pieces of legislation contribute to a 2Gen policy approach by accounting for service shortages and sanctioning existing systems to address those shortages. 

Child Care Quality

An Income Tax Credit for Early Childhood Educators will provide a tax credit to educators serving young children. We know keeping early childhood educators in the field with good pay is key to providing high quality education and care for Colorado kids. It’s also important for educators to have high quality credentials, and this tax credit is tied to educators’ credential level. Such a policy incentivizes further training for educators, ensuring higher quality care, and helps support them in a critically important field that often doesn’t pay a living wage.

Example of 2Gen Policies in Colorado

The Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI), is a project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor that allows the Community College of Aurora to help parents access jobs in high-demand industries (health care, information technology, and advanced manufacturing), while addressing a common barrier these parents face: child care. The four-year grant (which ends in 2020) offers a sustainable solution for families seeking independence and self-sufficiency. The program pairs students with:

  • a bridge program to prepare them for college-level courses;
  • an achievement coach to help them navigate challenges in the higher education process;
  • a child care navigator to address their child care needs; and
  • a career advisor to assist with the job placement process.

The initiative is part of a national study to measure whether offering students extra supports, with skills training, helps them complete training and find employment. As part of the initiative, stakeholders from around the Denver metro area are involved in efforts to 1. develop a more complete understanding of the childcare landscape in the Denver-Adams-Arapahoe region; 2. identify barriers in the alignment of early childhood education, workforce, and postsecondary systems; and 3. consider solutions for child care access that are needed to promote parents’ education and professional advancement.

SWFI is a great example of a 2Gen approach to a complex set of problems facing Colorado families. Program leaders hope to eventually use findings from a randomized controlled trial on the program to replicate successful components at other community colleges (using existing systems and capacity), and to make the case for a wider approach to state-level 2Gen policies.

Nearly 2Gen Policies

Although these programs are a good start, all future policy dealing with Colorado’s children or their parents should be developed with the whole family in mind. Child care is vital to parents’ ability to work and children’s ability to learn, and it does get at a piece of the complex and intertwined factors families face. But child care alone is not a 2Gen solution. The SWFI program represents a more comprehensive attempt at blending services for parents with services for their children in a way that enables parents to pursue economic mobility for the entire family.

As Colorado moves closer a systematic implementation of a 2Gen approach within state policy, we urge legislators and other leaders to use the guideposts that have been put in place in this session and previous sessions, and to identify the effective components of programs like SWFI so they can be implemented for more families across the state. By addressing needs of entire families together wherever possible, Colorado will stand among the few states that have fully embraced 2Gen policymaking, and the opportunities for economic mobility it presents. 

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