April 2005 // Volume 43 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW3

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Families at Five: Extending Land-Grant Research Findings to Families

Families at Five is a joint community outreach partnership between Colorado State University (CSU) Department of Human Development and Family Studies and CSU Cooperative Extension. The program provides research-based family life education and resources to families, Extension educators, and family life community professionals. Comprised of an adult program with accompanying programs for adolescents and children, Families at Five is designed to educate family members on ways to strengthen family relationships. Included in the article are suggestions for engaging Cooperative Extension agents and other community practitioners in the program planning and delivery of educational programs.

Shelley A. Haddock
Assistant Professor
Human Development and Family Studies
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado

Toni Schindler Zimmerman
Human Development and Family Studies
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado

Jennifer T. Aberle
Doctoral Student
Human Development and Family Studies
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado

Robert J. Fetsch
Professor & Extension Specialist
Human Development & Family Studies
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado

Rick L. Peterson
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist
2251 Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas


Families at Five is a community outreach partnership by Colorado State University (CSU) Department of Human Development and Family Studies and CSU Cooperative Extension to extend land-grant research findings to families. The primary goals of Families at Five are to educate adults and children on how to strengthen family relationships and to enhance the university's public mission of making life-long learning part of its core mission by providing greater access and partnerships in education (Kellogg Commission, 2001). This article to provides an overview of the Families at Five program.

Program Overview

Designed to disseminate science-based, practical information on building strong families (Mahoney, Kaiser, Girolamett, MacDonald, Robinson, Safford, & Spiker, 1999), Families at Five includes both an adult seminar series and accompanying program for children. The adult program, which meets at 5 p.m. to accommodate employed families, includes free, monthly, 1-hour seminars on important topics, (e.g., balancing family and work, building strong marriages, and coping with divorce). A professional expert facilitates each seminar and provides practical strategies based on current research. An accompanying children's program (ages 3-11) engages children in fun, meaningful, and age-appropriate activities on corresponding topics. Often families leaving the seminar are observed to continue talking about what they learned.

In order to extend the program's outreach, the Families at Five seminars are videotaped for Extension agents and other family life professionals to rent or purchase for use later. A leader's guide and accompanying activities are included.


The audience of Families at Five is diverse. Participants are community members from various backgrounds who seek information, support, and creative ideas to integrate into their personal and professional lives. Families at Five participants include single and coupled parents, grandparents, and professionals who work with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families, e.g., therapists, childcare providers, professors, teachers, and scout leaders. Young adult university students participate as part of their education and personal and career development. Children come with diverse backgrounds, developmental abilities, and experiences. Many times families, individuals, and professionals attend several sessions over a semester. Families at Five has reached over 2,000 adults and hundreds of children.

Research-Based Information Encourages Critical Consumers

Families at Five seminars attempt to address some of the top priority needs that Coloradans have for research-based information on strengthening families and marriages (Fetsch & Yang, 2004; Weigel, Fetsch, Jenson, Yang, & Rogers, 1992). Including children, adolescents, and parents in separate, concurrent enrichment programs can reinforce program effectiveness and enhance family cohesion and communication (Hurd, Lerner, & Barton, 1999). Families at Five strives to de-stigmatize therapeutic services and build bridges between participant families and community services (Green, 1998; McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 1996).


Families at Five is advertised to the community in various ways. Families at Five posters and flyers are distributed through most schools and childcare facilities in the community. Churches, therapists, and physicians are asked to display and distribute flyers. A newspaper article summarizing key points of the upcoming presentation is featured during the week prior to the presentation.


CSU Cooperative Extension, CSU, local foundations, and local businesses support Families at Five. Faculty members and students volunteer their time and expertise.


Families at Five seminars are evaluated for their helpfulness/usefulness, relevance, and interest level. A summary across sessions revealed that the Families at Five participants found (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree) the seminars helpful and useful (4.25), relevant (4.43), and interesting (4.31). The most effective method of marketing the program was by school flyers, newspapers articles, and by word of mouth by community professionals and community members. Future research is needed to further evaluate this program to determine how much participating families' strengths are increased.

Further Plans

Future plans for Families at Five are evolving to meet the needs of an ever-growing population. An undergraduate course was developed based on videos and supplementary information. Students read and discussed current research articles on the contemporary topics in the videotapes and wrote papers on each topic. This course is currently being formatted into an on-line distance-learning course.


One of the most important and often unmet needs of families is for reliable, relevant information on topics that strengthen family relationships. Cooperative Extension and Resident Instruction family scholars and practitioners are well equipped to provide workshops to the public, because they have access to current family research, have been trained to disseminate information in a holistic and developmentally appropriate manner, and have access to large numbers of families.

Family education programs strengthen communities by serving the needs of diverse families and by providing information on community services. The Families at Five model can be a useful outreach model for other Cooperative Extension and university and community partnerships to extend land-grant research findings that strengthen family relationships.


Fetsch, R. J., & Yang, R. K. (2004, February 23). Report to Tom McBride and Janet Benavente about the CEPNA survey. Available from first author, Department of Human Development & Family Studies, Colorado State University, Fort Collins 80523-1570.

Green, R. J. (1998). Race and the field of family therapy. In M. McGoldrick (Ed.) Re-visioning family therapy: Race, culture, and gender in clinical practice (pp. 93-110). NY: Guilford.

Hurd, T. L., Lerner, R. M., & Barton, C. E. (1999). Integrated services: Expanding partnerships to meet the needs of today's children and families. Young Children, 54(2), 74-80.

Kellogg Commission. (2001, January). Returning to our roots: Executive summaries of the reports of the Kellogg Commission on the future of state and land-grant universities. Available at: http://www.nasulgc.org/Kellogg/kellogg.htm

Mahoney, G., Kaiser, A., Girolamett, L., MacDonald, J., Robinson, C., Safford, P., & Spiker, D. (1999). Parent education in early intervention: A call for a renewed focus. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 19(3), 131-140.

McGoldrick, M., Giordano, J., & Pearce, J. (1996). Ethnicity and family therapy. NY: Guilford.

Weigel, R. R., Fetsch, R. J., Jenson, G. O., Yang, R. K., & Rogers, D. L. (1992). Issues validation: A new environmental scanning technique for family life educators. Family Relations, 41, 251-255.