The national trend in Extension is to incorporate subject matter specialists into departments as tenure-track Extension Title faculty. Specialists’ division of effort reflects their primary role as interpreter of cutting-edge research through development of programs with curricula, fact sheets, and other resources for the benefit of the state’s residents. In addition to their outreach writing and activities, Extension faculty typically teach at least one class a year and conduct applied research on their programs to measure knowledge, attitude, and behavior changes.
Extension trends in specific family science-related topical areas are described below. Extension educational resources already exist in each of these areas and are in constant use among Kentucky’s 120 counties. Updating, creating, and evaluating the impact of resources is an on-going challenge.
Working parents/primary caregivers and accompanying stressors. Extension’s child development specialist follows state needs and national trends by addressing the prevention and alleviation of stressors due to over-worked, limited resource families, especially single parents, fathers, and the high proportion of grandparents parenting grandchildren in Kentucky. Supporting, informing, and encouraging parents in their basic role as children’s most important long-term influence fosters optimal development, school readiness and achievement, and long-term quality of life. Such support and education also helps prevent child abuse and neglect, a grave concern in this state.
Financial literacy. Financial literacy, the knowledge and skills to manage money wisely, is a key element in improving the economic health of current and future generations of American families. Financial literacy has become increasingly important in recent years due to the convergence of a number of economic, policy, and demographic trends. Technological advances have increased the capacity for targeted marketing to consumers, which may increase some consumers’ vulnerability to fraudulent financial products. Further, workers today are increasingly responsible for managing their own retirement savings—yet at the same time, the nation’s personal saving rate has fallen dramatically in recent decades, and household debt hovers at record high levels. Numerous studies published in recent years have shown that most adults and students have not mastered basic economic concepts, such as the risks associated with investment choices.
Child and adult obesity prevention. Children as well as the many aging baby boomers are faced with nutrition and diet problems that are a direct result of sedentary life-style choices. Chronic troubles such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies are the highest in the industrialized world. There is a great need for educational and therapeutic interventions to bring down the horrifying statistics. Extension specialists in child development, family sciences, nutrition, family resource management, as well as in mental and physical health through the HEEL Program work together to address these critical issues.
Stress levels among the rural population. Rural stress results in depression, substance abuse, family violence and sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, farm accidents and injuries, a high school dropout rate, significant percentage of teens not in school and not working, eating disorders, and suicide among rural residents. Though there are some differences in prevalence rates, a similar set of challenges confronts Kentucky’s non-rural population. Among farm residents, individual family financial difficulties, increased import of farm products, changes in economic and farm policies, uncontrollable weather conditions, necessary shifts in crop production and the accompanying cultural paradigm shift, the inherent isolation of farming and farm work, and demands of new farm technology, may all contribute to movement from everyday stress to distress.
High-quality child care and schools for optimal learning and development. Parents’ informed choices of high quality, culturally responsive child care and later involvement in their children’s education positively influence their children’s high self-esteem, motivation to learn, and adult competence. The child development specialist includes this topic in outreach programming because county agents communicate the need for it.
Aging population. Both across Kentucky and nationally, the transformation of the Baby Boom generation into the largest elderly population in human history will bring sweeping changes to every area of our lives. The 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 are rapidly turning 65. Some 70 million Americans will be over 65 by 2030, more than twice as many as in 1997. Over the next 50 years, the number of the oldest old (85 years and older) will increase more than fourfold, from 4.3 million in 2000 to 18.2 million in 2050. Older women substantially outnumber older men.
Increasingly diverse population. Kentucky’s population is becoming increasingly multi-cultural, typical of other states. Diversity brings with it opportunities for personal and community enrichment, but also the toxic potential for prejudice, discrimination, and violence.
Self-management skills. One viable strategy for addressing the trends and challenges above and many others that plague our society is to teach self-management skills that promote individual competency, family vitality, and societal well-being.