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Aspen Institute Taps Chase-Lansdale as Ascend Fellow

Twenty leaders selected to examine approaches to move families beyond poverty

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University Professor Lindsay Chase-Lansdale has been named an inaugural fellow of the Aspen Institute’s Ascend program. Professor of human development and social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern and a faculty fellow at the University’s Institute for Policy Research.

Chase-Lansdale is one of a select group of 20 leaders from across the country who are pioneering two-generation approaches to move families beyond poverty.

Exploring a new model for social policy, Chase-Lansdale and her colleagues are assessing a dual-generation program known as CareerAdvance®, developed and run by the Community Action Project (CAP) of Tulsa County (Okla.).  She and her research team recently received awards from the Administration for Children and Families at HHS and from the Kellogg Foundation to fund a large, mixed-method longitudinal study of CareerAdvance®.

This newly created healthcare workforce development program is designed for low-income parents of young children who are enrolled in CAP’s early childhood education centers. The CareerAdvance® program also provides a number of key supportive components  -- career coaches, financial incentives and peer group meetings -- to prepare parents for high-demand jobs in the healthcare sector. To date, the dual-generation approach of CareerAdvance® is the only sectoral workforce development program with the goal of improving outcomes simultaneously for parents and children.

Chase-Lansdale believes that the 18-month fellowship will provide the opportunity to continue to work on an issue she has cared about from both a research and program perspective for a long time. She hopes to extend the dual-generation approach in Evanston and Chicago and perhaps other cities around the country.

“It’s not realistic for the child to be the only change agent in a family that everyday is having trouble making ends meet in a neighborhood with few resources,” said Chase-Lansdale. “There’s a strong and significant connection between parents’ level of education and the opportunities they offer to their children.” 

Anne Mosle, executive director of Ascend, said Chase-Lansdale’s research on two-generation interventions for young parents and children “has set a high standard for the field.” 

“I am honored that Lindsay will be a part of the Ascend network of leaders in two-generation strategies to build a legacy of educational success and economic security,” Mosle said.

Chase-Lansdale is an expert on the interface between research and social policy for children and families, specializing in multidisciplinary research on social issues and how they affect family functioning and the development of children, youth and adults. She recently received the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Policy for Children from the Society for Research in Child Development.

The Ascend fellows will work to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through public, private and nonprofit sector innovation and collaboration; state-of-the-art research; public engagement; and different market-based and philanthropic models. Fellows will receive scholarships to support participation and execute action plans to pursue two-generation approaches. They will be eligible to apply for grants from an Innovation Fund that Ascend is developing to support such work.

The Feb. 15 announcement of the fellowship program coincides with the release of an Aspen Institute report, “Two Generations, One Future.” The report makes the case for focusing on educational success for parents and their children together as a promising way to move families out of poverty.

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Below Chase-Lansdale discusses her research and fellowship with Hilary Hurd Anyaso, law and social sciences editor at Northwestern.

Explain the thinking behind the dual-generation approach to move families beyond poverty.

It’s important to define two-generation programs. These link two distinct types of programs that would promote learning and social development for children as well as education and workforce development for their parents.

It sounds obvious that there should be coordinated programs for parents and children in the same family in order to break the cycle of poverty, but these interventions are just beginning. In a sense, this reflects the silos of approaches to reducing poverty in the United States.

In developmental science, there’s been such an emphasis on the importance of early childhood education for low-income children in terms of promoting their transition to school and school success. We have 30-year outcomes showing that these children do much better as adults than their counterparts without high-quality early education. But on the day to day in a family who is facing economic hardship in a neighborhood with inadequate resources, I think it’s a lot to put on a child to be the only change agent. Low- income parents are highly motivated to promote their children’s education and opportunities, and they need to understand that what they can do for themselves that also will benefit their children over the short and long run.

What are you most looking forward to as a fellow?

It couldn’t come at a better time for me. I am excited about this whole idea. I’m partnering with a model program and have significant research funding to really understand how a two-generation program can affect parents and children. 

I’m trying to stay open to changing as a researcher, or to put it differently, to expand my expertise. What I mean by that is that obviously I’m a scientist, and I’ve been very focused on the translation of science for use by practitioners and policymakers for tackling research questions that are driven by policy issues. I’m particularly interested in working with the fellows and being part of a group of leaders who can actually bring about systems change in the United States and stronger political will to do something about economic hardship and the social disparities that are more evident than ever. So, I’m very interested in issues of framing, communication and also expanding what I’m doing in Tulsa to other cities like Chicago and Evanston.

Why does the dual-generational approach appear to be particularly promising?

What we do know is that parents’ education makes an enormous difference and is strongly linked to how children do in school and their life success. We also know that family’s socioeconomic status success is strongly linked to children’s success. We do have research that shows if parents increase their education when their children are young, their children are much more likely to do better than if parents increase their education later on or don’t increase it all.

Plus, when parents are also going to school and working hard to find a job and/or working, they model for their children what it’s like to work hard, do your homework, make your goals, go to class, learn new things, use a computer, etc. These parents are likely to increase the cognitive stimulation in their children’s home environments as well. All these things are little snippets of evidence, but there has not been a huge systematic research program on this. That’s what I’m launching. We have either studied early childhood education programs or we have studied job training programs or education initiatives. But we haven’t put it all together in the same family.

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