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Mississippi agencies join forces for families
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- At-risk mothers, children and families will benefit from a joint effort by two Mississippi agencies to deliver educational materials to improve the well-being of individuals, families and communities.
Representatives from Mississippi State University's Extension Service and the Mississippi State Department of Health signed an agreement in July for training and distribution of parent education materials. According to the agreement, the Extension Service will conduct training sessions and provide publications for health department workers to give their clients.
Louise Davis, child and family development specialist for MSU's Extension Service, said this is an ideal arrangement for both agencies.
"Extension has developed parenting education materials that the health department has used for many years, but this is the first effort to coordinate a joint approach," Davis said. "It is difficult to reach at-risk families through meeting-type settings, even small group meetings. Since health department workers are going into homes, their visits are opportune times to reach parents effectively in a one-on-one setting."
Extension recently conducted two training sessions for health department workers in the northern and southern halves of the state. These workshops helped orient more than 100 service providers with the materials and curriculum they will be using to educate parents. Extension will conduct three quarterly sessions over the next year to provide additional training.
Davis said the first training focused on educating parents of children up to age 5. The curriculum and materials also are part of Extension's efforts to "train the trainers" through the Master Family Life Educator Volunteer program.
"Professionals are limited in their ability to reach into communities. If professionals can train community leaders to provide educational materials, we will expand our reach into areas with special needs," Davis said. "This partnership with the health department will increase our number of trainers who are training appropriate people in communities."
The health department's introduction to the Extension curriculum resulted from Master Family Life Educator Volunteer training by Bettye Wadsworth. Wadsworth is an Extension child and family development area agent based in Jackson County.
"The partnership between Extension and MSDH started when two community-minded social workers decided to take part in the Master Family Life Educator Volunteer training near the Coast," Wadsworth said. "Their enthusiasm for the material and for helping parents is the key to this program's future success."
Linda Lather, a perinatal high-risk management social worker with the MSDH in Pearl River County, heard about the Master Family Life Educator training from a co-worker and believed it would increase her effectiveness in working with parents.
"We already had health education material on parenting, but the Extension material is more focused on broader issues and not just on problems," Lather said. "The new material has structured curricula that will help us educate parents on how to be more involved with their children and to understand the purpose behind activities."
As an example of the positive manner in which the curriculum addresses problems, Lather pointed to the issue of discipline.
"This material will give parents the skills to use discipline to correct behavior, not to punish," she said.
Lather and Lunita Wallace, her co-worker in Hancock County who also took the training, saw the potential for using this curriculum statewide. They wanted to enable other case workers to have the same material and be united in their efforts. They took their appreciation for the information and materials to their district supervisor, Virginia Adolph.
"I was familiar with Extension programs, so it did not take much to convince me about the kind of opportunity a joint effort would be for our agency. The health department and Extension work with similar populations; this seems like a win-win situation," Adolph said. "Before this agreement, our workers would take part in quarterly staff meetings where experts would provide appropriate information to improve our professional skills."
The new arrangement will provide more formalized support through an organized curriculum. Adolph said 75 percent of the program's contacts are in one-on-one educational -- and confidential -- settings. The material is also suitable for group presentations.
"One-on-one encounters improve the communication between the educator and the parent," Adolph said.