WSU Extension Works To Strengthen FamiliesBy Doug Nadvornick
Chelan/Douglas County Extension educator Jenn Crawford spends time occasionally in the Chelan County jail. And while she's there, she's busy doing something you don't often associate with jails: yoga.
Crawford and a group of volunteers teach yoga to inmates as part of Fit Fathers, Successful Familes Inside and Out, one of three family programs administered by Crawford's Extension office. They also teach the program in community settings.
"We use yoga as a way to help them strengthen their parenting skills," said Crawford. She explains that yoga shows the men how to calm and train their minds and "to stay aware and present" while they're with their children.
The results, according to Crawford, are encouraging. Her team found that most of the men understand more about what their children need from them, how they can satisfy those needs and how to better handle stressful situations.
Inmates praise Fit Fathers on the WSU Extension website: "Thank you for the class. It really made me think about my parenting skills and taught me a lot." "It opened up my eyes to getting out and doing more fun things with my daughter."
Crawford says the Chelan/Douglas County Extension focus on families came after a community needs assessment several years ago. "We heard people talk about drug and alcohol abuse and parents didn't know about the resources available," she said.
Besides Fit Fathers, her office adopted two other programs used by other WSU Extension offices. One, Strengthening Families, targets 10-to-14-year-old children and their families. Crawford says it aims to improve communications among parents and their kids and reduce the chances that young people start binge drinking. It's taught in both English and Spanish. She says Extension educators do surveys with family members before and after the seven-week courses. That and other anecdotal evidence helps them to track trends.
A third program, Children Cope With Divorce, provides support for families whose parents are undergoing divorce. Crawford says local counselors help moms and dads look at divorce through their children's eyes. They learn how to share parenting responsibilities. She says the program tracks the families for up to a year after the classes end.
Crawford says all three programs are having a positive effect in the two central Washington counties.
"We have data that show parents are talking more effectively with their children about not using drugs," said Crawford. "We think it has led to fewer arrests related to drug and alcohol abuse. That's a big cost savings for the community."
Inmates in the Chelan County jail learn to use yoga to calm their minds, a tool they can use when they parent their children.
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Crawford)