Evidence-Informed Investments

Insights for Designing Outcomes-Oriented Programs for Young Parent Families

By Joel Straker, Chelsea Haley, and Mary Nelson    July 16, 2020


As a part of the Southeastern Cohort on Young Parents and Families—a project focused on improving stability and economic well-being for young parent families in Kentucky, Georgia, and South Carolina—Third Sector summarized insights from studies that evaluated over 100 evidence-based, young parent support programs across the United States. The insights (highlighted below) were identified by reviewing research related to the design, delivery, and impact of evidence-based young parent family programs and real-time learnings from the human services organizations that are part of the cohort.

We encourage state agencies and service providers to consider the insights on evidence-based practices in designing or updating their young parent programs. These practices will better enable young parents and their families to overcome challenges and leverage their potential and assets to achieve family stability and economic well-being.

Program Design and Services

Human services organizations can use several strategies to better align program design and services with the needs of young parent families to ensure customized and coordinated whole family support:

  1. Parents are equal partners: As experts on their needs and those of their children, leverage parents (using an empathic style) in the process of program design and evaluation.
  2. Fathers matter: Promote greater participation of fathers, even within families that are struggling with co-parenting, by using relevant content and developing parent-specific engagement plans.
  3. Tailor services: Services must be tailored and adapted (through continuous improvement) to fit the needs of young parents and their children in ways that address the family’s culture, goals, and living situations while meaningfully leveraging their unique assets.
  4. Ensure cultural relevance: Use family voice and disaggregated data to better understand your young parent population and culturally adapt programs and services based on their race, religion, gender, geography, etc. to effectively engage, retain, and equitably support families.
  5. Adopt trauma-informed services: Given the high rate of trauma among young parents, especially foster care-attached individuals, equip case managers to use trauma-informed techniques to identify racial, familial, and individual trauma and make appropriate referrals.
  6. Integrate services: Ensure alignment between program components led by the primary delivery organization and those led by external partners to address multiple needs, ensure easy access, and improve the continuum of care for the whole family.
  7. Leverage peer support: Social support facilitated through peer groups or classes (virtual or in-person) can have multiple benefits for young parents, including an increased sense of connection, reduced isolation, and improved positive behaviors—all of which can strengthen program engagement and outcomes.

Program Engagement

Program attendance and attrition are challenges for human services organizations given that young parent engagement often falls off over time. To achieve higher levels of program attendance and persistence, organizations can deploy several evidence-based strategies:

Offer supports – such as transportation and child care assistance – for program activities

Schedule service delivery around parents’ schedules and co-locate support services

Select service delivery partners that are already known by young parents or are trusted entities

Address coping mechanisms and parental stress

Select case managers with a high level of relatability to participants and their communities

Embed cultural awareness and sensitivity in programming

Program Delivery

Case Manager
Case managers are critical to supporting young parents to achieve their goals. Case managers can serve as role models that relate to and motivate parents towards success. The key skills and attributes of an effective case manager include:

  1. Shared cultural identity and/or experience engaging with young parents
  2. An ability to build trust with young parents and encourage parental trust in necessary wraparound support services
  3. An ability to recognize trauma and provide trauma-informed care and/or appropriate referrals
  4. An ability to detect how mothers and fathers may respond to program support differently and adjust services appropriately

Technology
Technology can be leveraged to expand program reach, support delivery of services (especially in the context of COVID-19), and promote program persistence, all of which ultimately improve outcomes for young parents and their families. Here are some examples of how technology can be used:

Develop websites/social media pages to share resources and build awareness of the program

Deliver educational content, convene peer support groups, and conduct focus groups online

Establish hotlines to respond to requests and link young parents to services, especially emergency services

Leverage text/instant messaging and social media to answer questions, get feedback, and link young parents to supports or resources

Southeastern Cohort on Young Parents and Families

Through the Southeastern Cohort on Young Parents and Families, Third Sector is providing technical assistance to state and provider agencies in Kentucky, Georgia, and South Carolina to better align employment and wraparound services (through collaboration across agencies and funding streams such as TANF, WIOA, and SNAP) to support young parents receiving public benefits. Phase I of the cohort will run from January 2020 to August 2020 and is funded in part by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The ultimate goal of the cohort is to bring systems-level recommendations to the field for better supporting young parents and their families. The insights highlighted above have helped the cohort teams in Kentucky, Georgia, and South Carolina to design, customize, and better integrate programs, policies, and systems across human services and workforce agencies. Expect more information on the recommendations of the cohort in the coming months. And to learn more about the cohort and how your organization might begin this work, please reach out to Joel Straker.

About Third Sector

Third Sector Capital Partners, Inc. (“Third Sector”) is a non-profit advisory firm committed to accelerating America’s transition to a performance-driven social sector. Since 2011, Third Sector has worked with over 50 government partners and providers to use outcome-oriented strategies in areas such as workforce, education, and mental health to direct over $800M in public funding and services towards achieving better outcomes.

Relevant Sources

  1. Aspen Institute. Making Tomorrow Better Together: Report of the Two Generation Working Group (Washington, DC, n.d.).
  2. AVANCE. Parent Child Education Program External Impact Evaluation Technical Report. 2014.
  3. Center for Assessment and Policy Development. “BDI Logic Model for Working with Young Families Resource Kit” (Baltimore, MD, 2008).
  4. Hall CM, Bierman KL. Technology-assisted Interventions for Parents of Young Children: Emerging Practices, Current Research, and Future Directions. Early Child Res Q. 2015;33:21‐32. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.05.003.
  5. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8. Chapters 5 & 6 (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2016) https://doi.org/10.17226/21868.

About the Authors

Joel Straker (full bio)

Manager
Third Sector

Chelsea Haley (full bio)

Associate
Third Sector

Mary Nelson (full bio)

Policy Associate
American Public Human Services Association


Insights for Designing Programs for Young Families

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