Growing Strong Families Since 1999
Parents are their children’s first and most influential teachers. The early years of a child’s life are critical for optimal development and provide the foundation for success in school and life. However, some parents function with high risk factors and without adequate support.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has been educating parents and supporting families through the Growing Strong Families program since 1999. The program, which teaches parents about child development, nutrition, money management, and health and safety, receives funding from Early Childhood Iowa.
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, on-going 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. This program is an example of efforts that are committed to improving Iowans’ health and wellbeing.
Through the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, individuals, families, businesses, faith-based organizations, not-for-profits, and the public sector are working together in community-focused efforts to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016. To measure progress, the initiative uses the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which tracks the well-being of U.S. residents throughout the year. The scientific survey measures six domains of well-being, including healthy behaviors and basic access to enough money for food and shelter.
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, 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.
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 wellbeing, how to function better as a family, and how to connect within their community.
In a typical year the Growing Strong Families program serves approximately 230 families, reaching 350 children. 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. 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.
Growing Strong Families parent educators engage families with activities designed to improve, encourage, and strengthen children’s motor skills, social interaction, intellectual abilities, and language development. The end results are stable and thriving families, reduced risk behaviors, and children who are ready to enter school and succeed.
In 2012 ISU Extension and Outreach’s Growing Strong Families Program 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. 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 Growing Strong Families Program met all 139 standards, based on the most up to date, evidence-based practices in the family support field. 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. The credential is valid for five years.
ISU Extension and Outreach program specialists and parent educators serving southern Iowa