Poverty often results in a myriad of problems for families that a single intervention is unable to fix. That’s why in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Career Advance Program (CAP) is tackling the effects of poverty in two generations at the same time: Working to help low-income mothers attain training for nursing and other medical-industry careers while ensuring their kids receive high-quality childcare through the local Head Start program.
CAP includes a required monthly seminar class for the mothers on career skills — such as interviewing and resume building — and meetings with life coaches to help participants learn time management skills, how to deal with stress, and ways to overcome troubles (ranging from dead cars to kitchen fires, for example). CAP pays for the mothers’ tuition and childcare. Plus, the program offers $200 bonuses (in the form of gasoline cards or expense reimbursements) for good grades.
Steven Dow, the executive director of CAP Tulsa, told Eric Westervelt of NPR, “The paradox of our early childhood work is that we are so focused on young children. And yet, many of the outcomes we want for young children are dependent on being able to also make progress with their parents and the adults. So this interplay is a tough nut to crack.”
CAP is producing positive results: When the kids see their mothers studying, they’re more motivated to study, too. And when the families increase their income and move off public assistance, the kids’ academic futures become brighter.
It’s a tough road for a low-income parent to earn an RN degree, but CAP is finding that even those who drop out before reaching the end still earn other medical certifications and are able to move up to better jobs than they had before. The career coaches make the difference for many of the participants who are able to stick it out and succeed. “They’ve become almost like second mothers,” program participant Shartara Wallace told Westervelt. “Because they really stay on you, they push you. And then, at the same time, they are there to hold your hand. But just like a parent where it’s like, ‘OK, I need you to walk on your own and handle this, but I still got your back.'”
Consuela Houessou, who immigrated from Benin, is studying to be a registered nurse through CAP Tulsa. She said, “[My kids] want me to do well. We compare grades. ‘I get A today, what did you get?'” With two-generation assistance programs already in place across the country in places including Iowa, Boston, and San Antonio, these mothers and many others may finally be able to break the cycle of poverty.