Mom Working On Laptop While Son Looks Over Her Shoulder


Supporting Parenting Students in Public Systems

Supporting parenting students and collaborating with families with low incomes to promote public system reform and economic justice.

What We Work For

We work to advance supports for parenting students and to promote broad public system reform to work better for families with low incomes.

Parenting students work hard every day to pursue their goals for themselves and their families, often juggling work, classes, and caregiving responsibilities. But public systems frequently create additional hurdles for parenting students—especially those with low incomes—and do not do enough to support their families’ needs or help them achieve their goals. Parenting students’ struggles to navigate a wide range of public systems, including public assistance, higher education, child care, immigration, and housing, shed light on these systemic failings, and how policies and systems can be transformed to work better for all families with low incomes.

How We Do It

Our work is driven by families’ experiences in public systems. We work with families to advance policy and system change, including engaging in long-term collaboration with parenting students and families to advance supports and promote broader public system reform for families with low incomes.

We take a collective approach to advancing supports for parenting students and promoting broad public system reform as a means of promoting economic justice for all families, especially those with low incomes who interface most frequently with public systems. We center the experiences and needs of families through a combination of strategies including long-term collaboration, as well as qualitative interviews and surveys. We believe that developing meaningful solutions can only be achieved if our policy work is driven by what families determine they need in ways that they determine work best.

In 2022, the Center for the Study of Social Policy co-designed research with parenting students to better understand the barriers experienced by parenting students participating in CalWORKs, California’s cash assistance program for families with children. This research is a partnership with the CalWORKs Association and Project SPARC—a cohort of parenting CalWORKs students from California community colleges working to dismantle barriers for families.

The research found that while parenting CalWORKs students are highly motivated, they too often struggle to achieve their goals because public systems are not designed to meet families’ needs and create barriers to their success.

Watch a presentation, led by SPARC parent leaders, that shares more on the research findings and tells the story of how parenting students balance enormous responsibilities while navigating a range of public systems not designed for their families’ needs.

Our final report provides a comprehensive overview of the barriers families experience navigating the cash assistance system and receiving the support they need—and offers recommendations to improve the system to be more responsive to families and promote economic well-being over the long term.

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