Head Start University Dual Generation Approaches Grantee Meeting

Head Start University Dual Generation Approaches Grantee Meeting
January 22, 2014
Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Greenberg

Thanks very much, I appreciate having the opportunity to participate in this session this afternoon and to learn more about your projects. I’ll say a few brief words, but want most of the time to be conversational. As people have probably noted throughout the day, ACF is at root, a two-generation agency. In addition to Head Start, we’ve got responsibility for a wide range of other programs and initiatives, including, but not limited to child care, child welfare, TANF, child support, marriage and fatherhood, domestic violence refugee assistance, unaccompanied alien children, and more. So, for us, it’s fundamental that if one’s goal is to attain better outcomes for children, it’s crucial to also be working with their parents. And, conversely, if one has a goal of spurring employment and economic success for parents, one has to develop and implement programmatic approaches that recognize a parent’s dual role as breadwinner and caregiver. So, given our strong interest in two generational approaches, we’re very excited about this research initiative and how it can help us deepen our knowledge and understanding of dual generation approaches.

In almost all of our work, we don’t directly run programs. Instead, we provide funding to states, or tribes, or Head Start agencies, or community action agencies, of other grantees. We have responsibilities for ensuring that they comply with the law. But, oftentimes, our principal ways of influencing their approaches are through research, technical assistance, discretionary grants, and the federal bully pulpit.

We are very aware of, and encouraged by the surge of interest around the country in the concept of two generational programs. And, for the last several years, in conversations both within and outside of ACF, I’ve been asking researchers and program providers and others to help us think through the implications for ACF programs, and specifically where are the areas for which the research is so strong that we ought to be encouraging everybody to do something; what are the initiatives and efforts that rise to the level of promising practices, even if they’ve not yet been rigorously evaluated, and in a world where there aren’t enough research dollars to test everything that ought to be tested, what are the kinds of innovations for which we should just be encouraging state and local experimentation, even if we’re not well positioned to do rigorous evaluation. We’d welcome having these conversations with any and all of you.

We’ve got some unique opportunities in connection with Head Start, because it is explicitly two-generational. And, as we ask ourselves and others what are the most important strategies for improving Head Start impacts, issues relating to parents, parenting and parental capacities come forward repeatedly. And, looking across the set of initiatives you all are taking on, what’s particularly exciting is that they will be addressing either directly or indirectly a number of questions that we’ve been asking. On the one hand, it seems fundamental that when a program is working with children whose parents are unemployed or underemployed, there has to be attention to parental employment. But it’s not at all clear how to do so effectively, and what’s within the program capacity. We’re very aware of much of the key research relating to trauma, stress, parental depression, and we know that this poses questions and challenges about how programs can be not just trauma-informed but also stress- and depression-informed, and that there are then important issues about how to understand behaviors, when to connect with services, and what kinds of services.

We’re intrigued by the recent work around executive function and the questions as to whether executive functioning capacities can be strengthened for parents as well as children, and if so, would those strengthened capacities translate to improved parental or child outcomes. We understand that there’s at least theoretical reason to believe that if we can strengthen parental capacities, it can both promote better outcomes for children and better success for parents in employment, and we hope to learn more about whether that is in fact the case.

So, we’re excited about your projects and what we might learn them. I look forward to our discussion and interchange this afternoon.

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