In a given year, just over 100,000 women serve time in state or federal prison, and most of them have children under 18, reports John Leland in “The Sister of Second Chances,” for the New York Times.
So how can we support these women and their children? The article profiles a two-generational approach led by Sister Teresa Fitzgerald, or Sister Tesa, in New York City. The reason why many pursue these approaches to strengthen families is because, as Sister Tesa says, “I couldn’t help the children without helping the mother.”
Two-generation approaches are those that create opportunities and address the needs of vulnerable parents and their children. These approaches are strongest when supports are coordinated to allow these families to:
- build social capital,
- leverage economic supports,
- improve their health and well-being,
- participate in early childhood education programs, and
- pursue post-secondary and employment pathways.
Last year, the National Human Services Assembly surveyed two-generation approaches for young parents, ages 15-24, who were out-of-school, out-of-work, and raising dependent children. There’s 1.4 million of them, and coordinating the services and opportunities to help them live well is particularly challenging but also necessary.
While some two-generation approaches try to coordinate opportunities across different organizations and programs, Sister Tesa in New York City actually created and now leads these opportunities. Today, Sister Tesa oversees 3 apartment buildings, 3 thrift stores, a day care center, an after-school program, a job-training program, a group home, a food pantry, and a mentoring program.
Sister Tesa described working with the young mothers leaving prison in this way:
“I met very few people who blamed someone. And their resiliency, their hope and dreams are big. I didn’t know anything about barriers. I was ignorant. You realize the American dream is fraught with potholes. I had no idea.”
This year NHSA was selected to join the Aspen Ascend Network to research policy barriers for two-generation approaches in order to identify “work-arounds” and to suggest administrative changes in order provide comprehensive support for families.