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February 25, 2021

New Report Shows Two-Generation Approach Transforms Youth and Family Outcomes

Friends of the Children’s unique long-term mentoring approach supports entire families together and creates meaningful progress for youth and families

February 25, 2021 (PORTLAND, ORE.) – A report released today by the national organization Friends of the Children showed that the organization’s Two-Generation (2Gen) approach—embedded in their long-term youth mentoring model—supports entire families in concrete and measurable ways and can lead to life-changing improvements for both children and their parents. The report was part of an evaluation conducted by ICF and funded by the federal Social Innovation Fund, administered by AmeriCorps.

“Friends of the Children has known for nearly 30 years that a child’s relationship with a Friend—a paid, professional mentor— has powerful ripple effects to their parents, caregivers, siblings, friends, and communities,” says Friends of the Children CEO Terri Sorensen. “We’re now measuring that impact and taking a more intentional approach to supporting both youth and their parents. Caregivers have told us that what they need to achieve their hopes and dreams are people who believe in their power, potential and contributions. They’ve told us that trusting, long-term relationships with Friends empower change across generations – for both themselves and their children.”

In partnership with schools, child welfare systems and community partners, Friends of the Children selects 4- to 6-year-old children –and by extension their parents or caregivers—to be paired with highly trained mentors (called “Friends”) who sustain an intensive Friend-child and family relationship over 12+ years. Since March 2020, the organization has seen a more than 300% increase in demand for services as well as the need for connectivity to distance learning, mental health support, and other critical stabilizing resources.

Research Findings

In 2020, independent researchers from ICF surveyed caregivers whose children were in Friends of the Children about how the program has affected their lives and the lives of their children:

  • Eighty-six percent said Friends helped them better understand their child’s strengths and needs. Additionally, 88% said their child’s behavior had improved, making their home a more positive place.
  • Eighty-four percent said Friends helped strengthen family relationships. Additionally, 84% said Friends supported them to spend more time with their other children.
  • Ninety-two percent said Friends helped them support their child’s school success. Additionally, 84% said Friends helped make their relationships with school personnel stronger.
  • Ninety-two percent said Friends connected them to concrete supports that enrich and stabilize their family. Additionally, 77% said Friends promoted their ability to navigate systems and build community connections.

“Our evaluation of Friends of the Children’s Two-Generation approach showed that—across the board—there was clearly a positive, measurable effect for the entire family,” said Susan Walsh, Ph.D., Director of Research and Strategic Impact at Friends of the Children. “The targeted support provided to parents helped them to view their child’s behavior more positively—which is a critical protective factor—but it also empowered them to focus more on being the parent they wanted to be.”

The ICF evaluation study also explored the benefits of having a Friend for youth in foster care and found that foster youth who were enrolled in Friends of the Children had a significantly decreased length of stay in foster care – an average of 399 days compared to 576 days. In the life of a child, reducing their time in foster care by six months is incredibly significant.

The Two-Generation Approach

Friends of the Children, which has been working to support families to move from poverty to prosperity for almost three decades, says that many entrenched policies – now compounded by the pandemic - are widening disparities for families rather than narrowing them. Friends of the Children’s 2Gen approach centers on five key areas:

  • Supporting caregivers to understand their child’s needs and strengths
  • Equipping caregivers with social and emotional learning skills
  • Promoting self-advocacy through an understanding of, and advocacy within, complex systems like education and child welfare
  • Connecting families to concrete supports, like housing and education/employment pathways
  • Creating opportunities to build social capital through community and peer-to-peer connection

“A 2Gen approach, when done right, can provide families the resources, stability, and support that help chip away at the tangled roots of inequitable and hurtful systems,” said Anne Mosle, executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute. “2Gen approaches build family well-being by intentionally and simultaneously working with children and the adults in their lives together. As children, parents, and families grow and change across their lifespan, 2Gen approaches align opportunities to help families pursue their goals and thrive, optimizing each person’s potential along the way.”

Policy Implications

Embracing 2Gen approaches requires not just a shift in thinking, but also a shift in policy and practice that empowers caregivers as experts and decision-makers while also embracing outcomes-focused innovation. Friends of the Children’s 2Gen approach does both, positively impacting family well-being, mental health and school success. As advocates work to reform the existing child welfare system, Friends of the Children sees the possibility of an equitable family well-being system that mitigates trauma, redresses long-standing power imbalances, and maximizes the potential of all youth and families.

Today at 1 p.m. PT/4 p.m. ET, Friends of the Children will be hosting a panel on the topic called “In It Together: Why Two-Generation Approaches Are Critical to Family Health and Well-Being.” The panel will include Jeannine Balfour, Senior Program Officer, The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Gary Clemons, Executive Director, Friends of the Children New York; Tiffany Day, Systems Change & Policy Analyst, Ascend at the Aspen Institute; and Drayton Jackson, the founder of the Foundation for Homeless & Poverty Management and Parent Advisor at Ascend at the Aspen Institute.

Read the full report here.

Credentialed members of the media can RSVP to the panel discussion by emailing Ariane Le Chevallier at alechevallier@friendsofthechildren.org.

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