AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is growing strong families in southern Iowa, and now has the credential to prove it. The Growing Strong Families Program has earned the Iowa Family Support Credential from the Iowa Department of Management and Public Health. It is only the 15th Iowa program to earn this distinction.
Growing Strong Families is a comprehensive family experience for expectant parents as well as parents and caregivers of children from birth through age 5. Participation is voluntary in this program that features regular, ongoing home visits from ISU Extension and Outreach parent educators, along with group meetings. The program is available in Adair, Fremont, Page, Taylor and Wayne counties.
The Iowa Family Support Credential is awarded to family support and parent education programs that go through an external evaluation and are found to substantially adhere to the Iowa Family Support Standards. The credential is valid for five years.
Programs that provide family support build on individual and family capabilities to strengthen parenting and overall family functioning. Families who participate in programs that provide family support learn how to improve their children’s health and well-being, how to function better as a family and how to connect within their community.
The Iowa Family Support Standards are based on the most up to date, evidence-based practices in the family support field, said Kim Brantner, an ISU Extension program specialist and a staff supervisor for the Growing Strong Families Program.
“There were 139 standards that had to be met,” Brantner said, ranging from how eligible families are identified for participation to how staff members are trained and supervised. Adhering to the standards indicates that a program is providing high quality services that will result in positive outcomes for young children and their families.
Parents are their children’s first and most influential teachers. That’s why ISU Extension and Outreach has been educating parents and supporting families through the Growing Strong Families program since 1999, said Donna Donald, an ISU Extension family life program specialist and a subject matter consultant for the Growing Strong Families program. The program, which teaches parents about child development, nutrition, money management and health and safety, receives funding from Early Childhood Iowa.
The early years of a child’s life are critical for optimal development and provide the foundation for success in school and life, Donald said. In a typical year the program serves approximately 230 families, reaching 350 children.
Heidi Lowthorp is the Growing Strong Families parent educator for Fremont County. The activities she engages in with families are designed to improve, encourage and strengthen children’s motor skills, social interaction, intellectual abilities and language development.
In a typical week, Lowthorp said, “I might be a jungle explorer collecting samples of nature with a 32-month old. I may also work side-by-side with a world-class 4-year-old chef, preparing trail mix and helping him publish his own cookbook. Or, it may be a less adventurous, but just as important day, holding a newborn or playing peek-a-boo with a 6-month old.”
She added, “Whatever hat I wear as a parent educator, I deliver valuable child development topics to parents and other caregivers important in a child’s life. All it takes is a bit of imagination and willing children to play along.”
In addition to educating parents about how to teach their children, Growing Strong Families helps families connect with community resources, such as child care, health care or transportation, and build support networks. Those connections are important, Donald added, because many of these families are at risk. In about 75 percent of the families that participate, the parents have a high school diploma, a general equivalency diploma or less education, and family income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
“Funding for this program allows the parent educator to visit families monthly, bringing them child development information, age-appropriate games and skill-building activities. The end result is a stronger family, a well-developed child and a child ready to enter school and succeed,” Lowthorp said.
Research data collected from participating families indicate that 82 percent of the families improved or maintained healthy family functioning, problem solving and communication as a result of the Growing Strong Families program, Donald said. Ninety-one percent of participating families increased their knowledge about child development and parenting, and 97 percent of participating families increased or maintained social supports.
“This impact results in reduced spending of tax dollars through stable and thriving families, reduced public assistance and reduced risk behaviors,” Donald noted.
Fremont County Contact: Heidi Lowthorp, Growing Strong Families Parent Educator, firstname.lastname@example.org