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Program Areas

LAND-GRANT COLLEGE:  Youth and Families is an Extension Program Unit in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) at Washington State University (WSU). WSU is a land-grant university designated by the state legislature and Congress. There is at least one land-grant institution in every state. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Cooperative Extension Service associated with each U.S. land-grant institution.
WSU EXTENSION:  The State legislature passed law creating extension work at Washington State College in 1913.  Washington State law (RCW 36.50.010) authorizes WSU to establish and carry out extension work in any county in cooperation with the governing body of any county and municipality.  With over 40 locations throughout the state, WSU Extension is the front door to the University. Extension builds the capacity of individuals, organizations, businesses and communities, empowering them to find solutions for local issues and to improve their quality of life. Extension collaborates with communities to create a culture of life-long learning and is recognized for its accessible, learner-centered, relevant, high-quality, unbiased educational programs. WSU Extension engages people, organizations, and communities to advance knowledge, economic well-being, and quality of life by fostering inquiry, learning, and the application of research.  WSU Extension is committed to providing safe and inclusive environments for all youth and adults regardless of race; sex; gender; sexual orientation; gender identity/expression; religion; age; color; creed; national or ethnic origin; citizenship; physical, mental, or sensory ability; genetic information; and/or status as an honorably discharged veteran or member of the military.


WSU EXTENSION YOUTH AND FAMILIES PROGRAM UNIT:  The WSU Extension Youth and Families Program Unit is one of three departmental units of WSU Extension within CAHNRS.   Faculty and staff focused on youth and family issues and challenges provide statewide leadership to promote education, connection to resources and collaborations that create an environment where individuals of all ages can thrive in richly diverse communities across Washington State.  Faculty and staff in the Youth and Families Program Unit draw upon research-based programs and resources from the University.  Working in the human sciences, they incorporate local knowledge gained from living in the communities and engaging people, organizations, and communities to advance economic well-being and quality of life.


Major Extension programs housed within the Youth and Families Program Unit include:

  • 4-H Positive Youth Development—4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization.   WSU Extension 4-H reaches out to kids and their families to build skills for real life.  In Washington State, the 4-H program is the largest youth-serving organization in the state engaging almost 80,000 youth annually with educational programs leading to acquisition of critical life skills, reduced risk of dangerous behaviors, increased educational attainment, and enhanced citizenship skills.  4-H Healthy Living programs help 4-H youth learn how to lead lives that balance physical, mental, and emotional health.  4-H healthy living programs are available through local 4-H clubs and through grant-funded programs.  Focus areas for 4-H Healthy Living programs include nutrition, childhood obesity, drug awareness, bullying prevention, health and fitness, safety, stress management, and food science.  4-H places educational investments into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through fun, hands-on activities and projects. For kids who are curious about science-oriented jobs, 4-H offers the STEM Career Pathway, an easy to follow, 4-step framework for exploring, learning, practicing and experiencing STEM careers including animal, environmental, plant and food science.
  • Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)—Since 1969, EFNEP has improved the diets and food-related behaviors of program participants.  WSU Extension EFNEP brings together federal, state, and local resources to target two primary audiences: low-income families with young children and low-income youth. The program operates in 5 counties in Washington state. Each year, more than 3,000 new participants complete the program.  EFNEP educators follow a research-based learning model that allows them to effectively reach and educate program participants. Educators are members of the communities they support;  trained/supervised by university and county- based faculty;  skilled in using hands-on, interactive teaching methods; committed to delivering sound instruction; able to influence changes in behavior and impact the lives of those they teach; and dedicated to reaching diverse, low-income populations.  EFNEP strives to deliver research-based information and education to clients in the home, classroom, or in community group settings to help Washington families, with limited resources, make better nutrition and health decisions. Our focus is the development of strong, nurturing families, healthy children, positive youth development, and savings in food and healthcare costs for clients. EEFNEP is designed to assist limited resource audiences in acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and changed-behaviors necessary for nutritionally sound diets, and to contribute to their personal development and the improvement of the total family diet and nutritional well-being. Participation in EFNEP should result in improved diets and nutritional welfare for the total family; increased knowledge of the essentials of human nutrition; increased ability to select and buy food that satisfies nutritional needs; Improved practices in food production, preparation, storage, safety, and sanitation; increased ability to manage food budgets and related resources such as food stamps; and improved physical activity behaviors.
  • SNAP-Ed (Food$ense)—SNAP-Ed is funded, in part, by USDA Food & Nutrition Service (FNS), Washington State University and local community partners. Food$ense nutrition education encourages youth and adults with limited incomes to share and apply skills-based learning at home and school to affect positive health behaviors associated with obesity prevention. Expanded education outreach includes environmental and policy actions to promote access and availability of healthy foods and physical activity in communities in which SNAP-eligible families live, learn, work and play. Families benefit because Food $ense increases their ability to prepare tasty meals with basic, low-cost food; uses recipes that are quick, easy, tasty and healthy; strengthens relationships between family members; improves school performance; and encourages better health habits
  • Food Preservation—WSU Extension faculty and staff throughout the state provide education and training to the public to ensure they are using safe and effective techniques for preserving garden or market produce during the growing and harvesting season, which can help make fruits and vegetables and the food budget last longer.
  • Consumer Food Safety –WSU Extension’s statewide consumer food safety specialist has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in microbiology and a doctorate in environmental science, with an emphasis on environmental microbiology and toxicology.  She educates people and helps officials and Extension faculty in Washington’s 39 counties and one tribal office, with the aim of keeping people safe and healthy.  If a consumer has food safety questions, they can get timely tips, breaking news on recalls, or other information they need by contacting their local county or tribal extension office, call the WSU Food Safety line or email, go to the Facebook page or  Twitter feed. When people think of food safety, most think of food recalls and canning. While those are extremely important, food safety is much bigger than that. For example, the Washington State Department of Health has put out advisories on fish consumption.  Some species of fish from waters across Washington are contaminated with mercury, lead and toxic chemicals. Many people, including pregnant or nursing women, children and the elderly, should not be consuming these fish, and people need to be aware of that. WSU Extension faculty and staff help expand awareness of food safety, whether we are talking about canning, proper cooking temperatures of food, or toxins.  In addition, food waste costs Americans approximately $165 billion annually, and households throw out as much as $2,200 in food annually. That’s a lot of money, especially for the 14 percent of U.S. households facing food insecurity.  It can be very difficult to reduce waste while ensuring food safety.  Some stories have circulated on how you can supposedly reduce waste by using expired foods, which is absolutely not recommended.  WSU Extension encourages consumers to buy food they can consume before it expires, and to compost food waste so nutrients can be put back into the soil.
  • Diabetes Prevention Program—WSU Extension collaborates with the WSU College of Pharmacy, Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance (DPCA), Washington State Department of Health, and Washington State Health Care Authority to bring the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) to communities around Washington. National DPP is based on a research study led by the National Institutes of Health and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which showed that participants who lost 5% to 7% of their body weight (10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person) by making modest changes, reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%.  Participants meet as a group with a trained lifestyle coach and learn how to make important changes during 16 weekly classes and 6 monthly follow-up sessions. Trained lifestyle coaches facilitate group discussion and coach participants to make key behavior changes to support weight loss and reduce diabetes risk including: making healthful eating choices, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, and adopting physically active lifestyles.
  • Parenting, and Child Development—WSU Extension family programs strengthen relationships between parents and their children in order to prevent and reduce the incidence of substance abuse and other risk behaviors. Our educators also work to understand and reduce the impacts of complex child trauma including parental neglect, emotional abuse, and physical abuse– one in three youth are exposed to these factors. Our educators work closely with WSU researchers to identify ways reduce these traumas and help schools and other institutions to more effectively deal with affected youth
  • Strengthening Families Program— The Strengthening Families Program for Parents and Youth 10-14 Years is a nationally recognized curriculum that provides parent, youth and family education. The model is designed to be delivered in local communities for groups of 7-12 families. Educational programs that bring parents and their children together in learning environments strengthen entire families.  WSU Extension faculty and staff have provided facilitation, training, evaluation and technical assistance for Strengthening Family programs in Washington State since 2002.  WSU has now trained over 400 facilitators from 29 Washington Counties. We have collected program evaluation data from nearly 100 programs and over 2000 parents and youth. In 2003 we formed an interagency team with representatives of the Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (DASA), the Family Policy Council, Community Technology and Economic Development (CTED), the Department of Health, and a number of Educational School Districts. In 2004 we incorporated the Spanish-language version of the program into our dissemination effort.  The Strengthening Families Program has reached 5,228 families regionally.  Facilitators have delivered more than 578 seven-week workshops, serving more than 7,600 youth statewide and regionally. Since 2001, WSU Extension faculty have trained more than 800 program facilitators. 51 counties in Washington, Oregon, and Nevada participate in Strengthening Families Programs. Washington is expected to save $17 million due to this program’s impacts to date.
  • Child and Family Research Unit (CAFRU)—As a part of WSU Extension, the Child and Family Research Unit (CAFRU) works with community allies to promote health and wellness for underserved and at-risk populations through research, community development, and education. They work with a range of challenges facing families and communities.  The principal focus is on working with community systems to address the public health challenge of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resulting trauma. Specifically, CAFRU focuses on how systems help individuals of all ages build resilience and recover from adversity.  Understanding that high levels of ACE exposure in the general population is common, CAFRU has found addressing trauma from ACEs to be a powerful strategy that can improve services in any system with the mission of supporting health and wellbeing in children and adults. CAFRU has developed an extensive body of work addressing the public health consequences of complex trauma, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and resulting trauma. The work in developing models to address trauma is focused on the successes of children, families, and community programs confronted by adversity.  A primary focus of CAFRU is research and evaluation of programs that counter the impact of complex trauma on individuals, families, systems, and communities. CAFRU faculty and staff conduct research to foster long-term success in early learning and K–12 education, primary health care, and other natural systems; and build understanding of the lasting effects of traumatic childhood experiences.  CAFRU is actively involved in helping communities develop their capacity to provide supportive services to their residents—especially those who are underserved and/or at risk. CAFRU works to build strong, supportive community systems, and develop relationships with community leaders and stakeholders to improve existing programs, especially those addressing issues surrounding at-risk youth, families, and K–12 capacity-building.  Since 2008, CAFRU faculty and staff have delivered complex trauma training to more than 30,000 professionals including those in the K-12 education system, early learning, juvenile justice, social work, mental health, primary health care, and community members in Washington, Oregon, and California. CAFRU is committed to equipping people in universal systems with awareness of complex trauma as a major health issue and with the skills to proactively respond.  Enhancing professional development opportunities for community leaders around the topic of complex trauma is a key mission of CAFRU. Specifically, CAFRU works to offer continuing education for community leaders including but not limited to health care providers and educators, and train community leaders on how to deal with childhood trauma and behavioral health challenges.