Project Profile

Family Futures Downeast

Washington County, Maine

Family Futures Downeast

June 9, 2019

Washington County, Maine

The John T. Gorman Foundation has partnered with Families Futures Downeast since its inception to develop and implement two-generation strategies to move families forward in Washington County

Two-generation poverty demands two-generation strategies

Deep rural poverty can grip families over multiple generations because of limited opportunities to access the traditional ladders of economic mobility. These families must devote a significant amount of their energy simply to stay afloat, leaving little to further their education, build savings, or pursue better-paying work.

Perhaps more than anything else, persistent poverty is defined by the hopelessness felt by those who live in it—a sense that existing opportunities simply aren’t open to them. Or that any attempt to successfully advance their standing will be met by insurmountable roadblocks. Sadly, that perception can be passed on to their children, where the cycle of poverty too often continues. Statistically, a child raised in poverty is much more likely to become an adult living in poverty.
To date, most attempts to break this cycle have centered on serving either parents or children individually. But a more promising model has emerged to help both groups

simultaneously, matching a two-generation problem with a two-generation strategy. With assistance from the John T. Gorman Foundation, Family Futures Downeast has been using this two-generation strategy to change the trajectory of dozens of families in Maine’s Washington County.

Pulling at the deep roots of poverty in Washington County

With its rocky coasts, endless blueberry fields, and tight-knit communities, Washington County is an unforgettable corner of Maine. Unfortunately, though, many indicators show that it is a place where poverty has a strong and persistent grip.

The latest Census data shows that 21% of individuals in Washington County live in poverty—the highest of any Maine county by far and a figure that has changed little in recent decades. The county’s median household income is $37,943, compared to $55,980 statewide, and its poverty rate includes 26.8% of the county’s children—also the highest in the state. Nearly two-thirds of Washington County’s children qualify for free or reduced school lunch and about one-third of its families receive SNAP benefits.
While these numbers reflect the challenges that come with living in Washington County, its assets should not be ignored. Residents are resourceful and hard-working, patching together livelihoods often tied to the ebbs and flows of seasonal work. And it is home to 3,600 members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, whose connection to its lands and waters goes back thousands of years, but who have also long suffered disenfranchisement.

The many organizations dedicated to serving their neighbors in Washington County represent another incredible asset. In 2012, a group of these organizations came together looking to collaborate in new ways to help low-income families trapped in generational poverty. In particular, this group focused on improving the educational attainment of parents while engaging their children to quality early education. Headed by the Community Caring Collaborative, this partnership would become Family Futures Downeast (FFD).

Foundation helps build support for innovative program

This emerging initiative first benefited from the support of the Great Bay Foundation, whose funding ensured that Washington County families could help shape the program. These families were able to express their aspirations, the barriers that have kept them from furthering their education, and what they needed to succeed.

With this solid grounding for the program’s formation, John T. Gorman Foundation staff helped partners streamline their vision into a formal proposal. The Foundation would eventually provide seed funding and access to national technical assistance to help further its development. But, moreover, the Foundation brought the program to the attention of the White House Rural Policy Council, which was developing a pilot initiative to test two-generation approaches to combatting rural child poverty. Launched in 2015, the program selected FFD as one of 10 Rural IMPACT sites, gaining national attention and federal assistance. The designation was also instrumental in securing funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and other Maine-based Foundations.

With continued support from the John T. Gorman Foundation, the first cohort of participants entered the one-year program in 2016. Parents first go through a College Transitions program with Axiom Education & Training Center to help prepare them for classes and build connections to tutors who support their academic success throughout the program. Once enrolled, parents take evening classes at the University of Maine at Machias or Washington County Community College—five courses contextualized to develop family and life skills that are rigorous enough to earn them college credit and put them on track to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Participants also have the option of working with Axiom and other workforce partners on placement with a local business that can offer career mobility.

While parents are in class, their young children receive high-quality early childhood education on campus from Downeast Community Partners. Children develop approaches to learning, literacy skills, and social and emotional skills to support their success in pre-school or K-12 education.

All the program costs are covered for the participants. Additionally, parents receive wraparound services to help them overcome barriers to success, coordinated by family coaches. Coaches support goal attainment and skill development throughout the program. Other supports include a laptop and WIFI connection, transportation resources, and financial supports that remove barriers to participation. Transitional coaching for up to one year after completion of the program helps participants with next steps for their career and education. And since the cohort takes their classes together, they build a supportive network among themselves in the process.

Promising outcomes for parents and children

The first two cohorts have served 48 families, including 88 children. Families enrolled in FFD are all low-income, and over 80% of the families qualify for SNAP benefits. More than 50% of the families served by FFD have at least one parent in the household working, most in a minimum wage job or seasonal employment. Almost half of FFD students currently enrolled are single mothers. Currently enrolling Cohort 4, FFD to date has served 69 families, including 128 children. Families enrolled in FFD are all low-income, and almost 80% of the families qualify for SNAP benefits. More than 70% of the families served by FFD have at least one parent in the household working, most in a minimum wage job or seasonal employment. Almost half of FFD students currently enrolled are single mothers.

Outcomes for these first three cohorts enrolled in FFD have been very positive:

  • 69 parents have enrolled, 33 at Washington County Community College and 36 at the University of Maine at Machias;
  • 77% of the parents (53 of 69) completed the program, exceeding FFD’s goal of 75%;
  • 96% of the students who complete the first year of programming persist in college, matriculating at WCCC and UMM, as well as other Maine colleges
  • 87% of children enrolled in the program have shown improvement in social and emotional development; 75% in approaches to learning; and 54% in language and literacy

These numbers speak volumes—both about the effectiveness of the two-generation approach and the great potential of these families. The continuing success of the program helped FFD secure contracts with the state Department of Health & Human Services that have allowed the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds and SNAP Employment & Training (SNAP E&T) funds to cover many program costs. The Foundation continues to support it, however, with funding to remove barriers for participants and for the program’s ongoing evaluation.

The John T. Gorman Foundation is proud to be a part of this partnership and believes in its potential to improve economic outcomes across generations for the families of Washington County.


Related Partners

Findings/Impact

Outcomes for the first three cohorts enrolled in FFD:

  • 69 parents have enrolled, 33 at Washington County Community College and 36 at the University of Maine at Machias;
  • 77% of the parents (53 of 69) completed the program, exceeding FFD’s goal of 75%;
  • 96% of the students who complete the first year of programming persist in college, matriculating at WCCC and UMM, as well as other Maine colleges
  • 87% of children enrolled in the program have shown improvement in social and emotional development; 75% in approaches to learning; and 54% in language and literacy

Relevant Strategies

Relevant Populations

  • Families

Locations by County

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