The Family Partnership has strengthened Twin Cities families for 140 years through therapeutic preschools, mental health counseling and anti human-trafficking programs. Now TFP is taking a dramatic step backward, so to speak. The nonprofit is the first in Minnesota to test a grant-funded program that sends coaches into at-risk households weekly for up to 18 months. The coaches are trained in a method called Mobility Mentoring. Instead of meticulously case-managing clients’ stubborn issues, mentors step back and guide parents as they assess their own stability, set their own goals and, remarkably, often double their household income in the process. Senior Vice President John Everett Till tells us more.
Q: TFP’s mission always has been to help families stabilize and, ultimately, get out of poverty. How does this program differ?
A: The Mobility Mentoring approach puts the parent, grandparent or other caregiver in the driver’s seat. Up until now, we’ve sent case managers into the home to help clients. In those situations, the case manager ends up doing 90 percent of the work — making the calls, driving the client to appointments. Now we’re sending mentors into the home to help participants. This is a coaching model. We’re trying to build their intrinsic motivation to pursue these goals on their own. We’ll tell them, “I’m going to help you set goals and meet with you every week and discuss the barriers to your goals, but my job is to keep you on track.” That’s a shift.
Q: Where did the model begin?
A: Mobility Mentoring was pioneered by Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), a Boston-based research and service institution serving low-income individuals and families. EMPath’s model helps participants set goals in five areas: family stability, well-being, financial management, career and education. EMPath reports that families who have access to this coaching for multiple years go on to double their incomes, save thousands of dollars and even purchase homes.
Q: Still, did you have to convince parents to participate? Were they skeptical of a program that promises “head-turning goals?”
A: No, because we are engaging parents and other adults with whom we have a relationship. Our focus is primarily families with kids who are already enrolled in our therapeutic preschools or connected to us through our four home-visiting programs. They see value in their relationship with us. We’re also targeting families that have some degree of stability. They’re not in crisis every minute of the day. Their heads are above water so they can think about what might be helpful. Also, the program is voluntary.
Q: How many families to start?
A: We’re beginning with three Mobility Mentors. Each mentor can work with about 15 families. We’re starting small and will work with more families over time. Single moms will probably be the majority of our cohort initially. Sometimes, the single parent is a dad or a grandparent. Our first hire is a seasoned community organizer who has experience with financial literacy in the Latino community, but her skill set is really around coaching. goal-setting and accountability.
Q: When it comes to family success, you’re bullish on the two-generation approach as the best chance to escape poverty. Say more.
A: Children see what their parents are doing. If a parent is really making the effort to study and go to school, children see that and they express appreciation to their parent. That becomes very motivating to the parent and transformative for the child.
Q: Will this be tricky territory for your case workers who have been trained to take charge and solve problems? Now they’re coaches who need to hold back.
A: That is absolutely the case. It’s a shift for them to think about not doing for the client but, instead, letting the client lead. Last fall, we brought EMPath here to train about 25 percent of our workforce. Our message to them: You should not be working harder than your client — the participant. The participant needs to think differently, too. This coach is not going to do everything for me. They’ll help me set goals, assess where I’m at financially, help me find resources. There are things they might have taken for granted when they had very supportive situations in the form of a case worker.
Q: Setting goals is one thing. Paying for those goals is another. What if a parent’s goal is to return to school? Or buy a house?
A: The conversation has to start with: What does it even mean to enroll in college? Then what are the ways of paying for it? Part time vs. full time? Are scholarships available? Let’s find the financial aid department. We’re not creating a loan package for them. We’re guiding them to what they need to make this work.
Q: How often will the team meet?
A: The mentor and participant will negotiate directly about where and when to meet. We’re aiming at one interaction a week. It might be in their home or our offices or where the child is in school. The nice thing about this is that we have at least a year, one-on-one, and we can go a year and a half. The relationship building and progress one can make is a lot greater. If we really want to get families out of intergenerational poverty, we need to do more than help them for three months.
Q: What do you hope to hear from parents down the road?
A: I made progress and I did this myself.