Commonwealth Receives Grant For Parent Pathways Initiative to Support Economic Advancement for Families

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HARRISBURG, PA — Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller and Department of Education (PDE) Acting Secretary Noe Ortega recently announced that Pennsylvania was awarded $150,000 through Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s Policy Acceleration Partnership to establish support networks that ease barriers to education for single parents seeking postsecondary education or vocational training.

Pennsylvania was one of six jurisdictions nationwide to be awarded funding that will support the commonwealth’s Parent Pathways initiative focused on helping parents access supportive services designed specifically for low-income families experiencing challenges that may impede postsecondary academic success.

“Parents may often feel limited by their economic circumstances and obligations to their family to take on the stress and work of pursuing education or training, but when we invest in tools and supports necessary to help them know that they are not alone on this journey, we can empower parents to invest in themselves and their family and take that critical step forward,” said Secretary Miller. “This funding will help us cultivate these support networks in Pennsylvania. I am incredibly grateful to the Aspen Institute for recognizing the value in this work, particularly as we all look towards our economic recovery from the public health crisis and building a better future for all of us.”

The Parent Pathways initiative focuses on expanding access to post-secondary education and training partnerships for lower income parents by establishing mentorship bonds that help parents succeed in their transition back to school, supporting access to families’ essential needs, providing housing supports when necessary, and two-generational programming supporting healthy child and family development. The goal is to support innovative models that open doors and eliminate barriers for single-parent families, particularly single mothers, be it through post-secondary education or vocational training.

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“Pursuing a college degree or credential can seem like an impossible dream for parents balancing the many demands of work and family,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “This grant will help educational institutions and community partners across the state design Parent Pathway initiatives, break down barriers, and create opportunities for adult learners to realize their educational aspirations while maintaining family stability.”

In Summer 2020, DHS and PDE surveyed community organizations previously interested in the Parent Pathways initiative to understand the greatest areas of need to facilitate establishing models of this initiative around Pennsylvania. The top three needs identified through this survey were understanding the availability of state resources, policy development support, and connections to subject matter experts. With the Ascend grant funding, the Wolf Administration will be able to address these needs through:

  • Establishing a Parent Pathways Advisory Committee that advises state and local partners on policy issues related to public assistance, workforce development, and other considerations that impact success in postsecondary education and training for lower income single or two-parent families;
  • Developing a Parent Pathways Learning Network that provides technical assistance to local partners seeking to develop models that meet their community’s needs. Pennsylvania will collaborate with The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice to support local partners that have previously expressed interest in developing Parent Pathways programs in their community as they seek to build sustainable, comprehensive partnerships that meet the needs of families in their community; and,
  • Creating a sustainability plan that leverages relationships with philanthropic partners around the commonwealth and future funding opportunities to support establishing local models and building sustainability into program development.
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“The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice is honored to support the Wolf Administration, DHS, and PDE in the Parent Pathways Initiative,” said Executive Director Christine Baker-Smith of The Hope Center. “This effort reflects the research-base showing that a multi-generational approach can directly lead to economic and social mobility through education. This work reflects our ongoing commitment to support parenting students in the pursuit of a college degree and our commitment to improving life for our neighbors in Pennsylvania.”

The Parent Pathways model was inspired largely by Misericordia University’s existing Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program (WWC). The WWC program assists single mothers and their children who are living at or near poverty level obtain college educations and continue into professional careers. The program is designed to break barriers surrounding intergenerational poverty and provide whole-person supports to address social determinants of health. 100 percent of WWC graduates continue directly into professional careers and/or graduate school upon graduation.

Most of the women participating in WWC are survivors of domestic violence, homelessness, food insecurity, and other similar circumstances. All participants in the program secure government assistance in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and child-care subsidy by fulfilling a 10 hour-per-week work requirement to meet eligibility criteria for the county subsidy.

In September 2018, DHS and PDE announced a Request for Information (RFI) to broaden the departments’ perspectives on existing models like the WWC and explore potential opportunities to implement a program statewide that would help expand higher education opportunities for low-income, single-parent families. A summit was held in April 2019 that brought together more than 200 partners in postsecondary and early childhood education, health care, workforce development, housing, and other human services fields to discuss the Parent Pathways model and two-generational, whole person and family supports. This grant funding will allow Pennsylvania to help partners come together to begin to develop these models in their community and advance policies that support student parents.

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