Spring 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW1

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Reaching Out to Single-Parent Families


Barbara Ludwig
Northeast District Supervisor
Ohio Cooperative Extension Service
Wooster, Ohio

More than half of the children born today will spend a significant portion of their lives in a single-parent family. It's estimated that these families now total 21% of all those in the United States. Similar statistics were discovered in researching Lake County, Ohio census data in preparation for a needs assessment conducted during 1984 by the Lake County Cooperative Extension Service.

When 130 single parents were surveyed in the fall of 1984, they shared their feelings about single parenthood and what kinds of information would be helpful. Most respondents were women working in service or clerical positions. Eighty-six were divorced, about one-third had never been married, and most were between 25 and 49 years of age. One mother wrote, "I feel I am being pulled in three different directions: work, my children, and myself." Another remarked, "Life in general has gotten very complicated - never enough time, never enough money." Several indicated: "I have become independent and self-confident"; "I recently landed a good job and just decided to go back to college."

It was found that mothers headed most one-parent families. One divorced parent identified herself as "financially devastated." She indicated there was never enough money for basics to say nothing of extras for herself and the children. The lack of money to live like other families was a concern registered by many respondents.

Sixty-nine percent of single-parent mothers were working full- or part-time jobs and found that locating adequate child care was a concern. These mothers wanted more from a sitter than just safety for their children. They wanted someone who would help their children develop and learn. For many, the cost of day care and sitters was prohibitive, and care wasn't available to those working night shifts or weekends. Teens and school-aged children were found to be caring for themselves in a number of instances.

The topics single parents most wanted information about included:

Parenting Ideas

Handling Multiple Roles


Dealing with Children's Problems and Feelings

Easier Ways to Maintain a Home

Parents indicated that the best way for Extension to share the information with them was through a newsletter. Self-study leaflets were a popular second choice. Evening group meetings with babysitting provided was a third choice of 48 people compared to 91 preferring the newsletter.

We used these suggestions to develop a monthly newsletter that was piloted with 150 families in 1985 and 1986. The newsletter has been used by agencies as a teaching tool, posted on bulletin boards, and requested by many single parents.

A recent survey indicated that 80% of those regularly reading the newsletter have been able to use the information. One professional commented:

The articles have been practical, wise, and useful. Many parents' faces lit up when they looked through suggestions for a smooth exit from the house in the morning. Typical comments were: "That's a great idea!" "Whoever wrote this knows what is important." "I'm going to try that one."

The newsletter is an effective tool for reaching single-parent families with needed information in a form very usable to them and at a convenient time. By helping parents improve their own self-image and parenting skills, we hope the entire family will be strengthened. In 1987, to make "Single-Parent News" became a statewide publication.