Parents and Children Thriving Together: A Framework for Two-Generation Policy and System Reform


In 2016, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), in partnership with the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) hosted a two-year policy academy. The policy academy, known as the Parents and Children Thriving Together: Two-Generation State Policy Network (PACTT Network), provided an opportunity for five states to create two-generation strategies for policy and systems change at the state level. The five states selected to participate are Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey and Oregon. This brief explores lessons learned from the PACTT Network and provides a framework to help guide state leaders seeking to implement two-generation strategies.

The PACTT Network was supported by grants from the Annie E. Casey, W.K. Kellogg and Doris Duke charitable foundations.

Why a two-generation approach?

Decades of national research have demonstrated that the well-being and success of children and parents are inextricably linked. Well-intentioned policy interventions operating in “adult-focused” or “child-focused” silos can fall short of meeting their goals because they do not take a holistic view of the population they are attempting to serve. However, promoting the needs of children and parents together is more likely to improve outcomes for whole families. “Two–generation” strategies seek to promote children’s learning and healthy development and parents’ success as both caregivers and breadwinners—giving families with low incomes a double boost in their efforts to achieve economic success and stability. Two-generation strategies reflect the reality that the well-being of parents is a crucial ingredient in children’s social-emotional, physical and economic well-being. Simultaneously, a parent’s ability to succeed in school and the workplace is substantially affected by the well-being of their children.

Why Focus on Systems change?

While all systems consist of pathways and institutional structures that could be improved through increased coordination and capacity, a two-generation strategy for systems change must include the needs of the whole family, throughout every step. Systems change involves an intentional focus on the whole family by state leaders in developing, improving and assessing policies, practices and programs to change the way families experience and interact with state government. Two-generation system reform strategies offer the opportunity to impact more families at once and operate at a larger scale than individual programs to help families achieve broader goals beyond the purview of the programs themselves.

two-generation system and policy change at the state level: a framework for states

  1. Define the problem and prioritize an area for action
  2. Understand the landscape
  3. Build leadership capacity in governor’s offices and state agencies
  4. Advance cross-agency and community collaboration and buy-in
  5. Embed family voice and prioritize authentic community engagement
  6. Prioritize continuous learning and quality improvement
  7. Use data for diagnosis and evaluation
  8. Apply an equity lens throughout the process


Two-generation approaches promote the needs of children and parents together to increase the likelihood of successfully generating better outcomes for whole families through intentional policies, programs and practices. A two-generation approach does not require adopting a new initiative or project, but rather can provide a new lens for improving existing programs and policies. Since parent and child well-being are so closely connected, two-generation strategies can advance governors’ key goals whether they are related to children’s school readiness, adult credential attainment, workforce readiness, poverty reduction and others. For example, if a state is striving to meet a credential attainment goal, a two-generation strategy can support this objective by making it more likely that parents can be successful knowing that their child(ren) are well situated. States focused on school readiness can both expand access to pre-kindergarten and other early learning opportunities while also considering the employment barriers that keep families from regularly attending programs (such as fluctuating work schedules and/or part-time programs that require parents to cobble together multiple child care arrangements) or develop strong family engagement and comprehensive supports to address a broader set of factors related to positive child development, which is likely to yield greater success in school readiness.

Ultimately, for a two-generation approach to be successful it should be connected to a state’s vision of how to improve access to services, supports and economic opportunity for all families. As states move their policy agendas for families forward, a two-generation lens can strengthen the outcomes that they are able to achieve.