A Path Out of Poverty and Poor Health

A Path Out of Poverty and Poor Health

Lindsay_TerriSchool of Education and Social Policy faculty Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and Terri Sabol are among several Northwestern University psychologists and developmental scientists working to help low-income families beat poverty and improve their health.

These interventions do not require elaborate social re-engineering or huge financial investment. Instead, they meet children and families where they are while providing benefits that stay with them throughout their lives.

Chase-Lansdale, director of the Northwestern University Two-Generation Research Initiative,  and Sabol are studying a program called CareerAdvance®, which pairs education, job training, and career-building programs for low-income parents with Head Start’s early childhood education services for their kids.

“We zeroed in on ways to improve education, income, and employment in order to improve outcomes for young children’s development,” says Sabol, assistant professor of human development and social policy. “Decades of research has shown parents’ human capital is one of the biggest predictors of how well children fare.”

CareerAdvance® is a three-year research project, but Chase-Lansdale and Sabol are seeing promising results after just one year. Compared with a control group, parents in the program showed a greater commitment to work and career, and were more optimistic and confident in their ability to achieve their goals.

“The CareerAdvance® parents are doing much better than the comparison group,” says Chase-Lansdale, the Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy.

“Almost 60 percent completed training in the health care sector and received a certificate within the first year, which is much higher than all national programs out there for low-income parents.”

Children in the program also saw gains, in the form of higher Head Start attendance rates and reduced absenteeism. And interviews with children showed an additional qualitative impact on kids. Sabol says many kids whose parents were in CareerAdvance® understood why their parents were going to school and the potential benefits.

"Kids were able to make connections, and they’d say, ‘My mom has to go to school to get a better job, and I also have to go to school to get a better job,’” Sabol says.

Chase-Lansdale and Sabol are now scaling up this two-generation project to include children not enrolled in Head Start. Chase-Lansdale hopes two-generation initiatives like this one can someday be as ubiquitous as universal pre-kindergarten.

 "We have 50 years of data on the strong, positive impact of high-quality early childhood education,” Chase-Lansdale says. “That impact could be even stronger if, alongside those programs, parents also changed their educational trajectories.”

Sabol, who works with the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Education, says components of CareerAdvance® can be deployed easily and quickly across the country.

“Not every program has to do what CareerAdvance® does,” she says. “There are lots of ways to support families. With this two-generation work, we are adding to the toolbox of services and programs that can best help families of all backgrounds.”

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By Clare Milliken
Last Modified: 9/5/17