'Generations Project' aims to improve services to families with at-risk children

Researchers at KU have earned a $3 million grant to expand services such as home visits, crisis support and education for families with at-risk children.

The three-year grant is administered by the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The project funded by the grant, the Generations Project, is a partnership between the Kansas Children’s Service League — the lead agency — and KU’s School of Social Welfare, Institute for Educational Research and Public Service and Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis.

The Kansas Children’s Service League offers a program to those in need called Healthy Families. Alice Lieberman, professor of social welfare and co-principal investigator for the grant, said the award will allow KU researchers to work with the league to enhance services already offered to families and to test the effectiveness of new services.

Families, who are referred to the league through a number of channels, will be placed randomly in a control group and a group with “experimental conditions,” which will be designed and tested by the institute’s evaluation team and center staff. Tracie Lansing, a KU School of Social Welfare graduate, is the league’s project coordinator.

Participants in the experimental conditions group will receive services the Kansas Children’s Service League has offered for years, such as counseling for parents of teenagers who become pregnant, as well as enhanced programs.

New services to be offered include a 10-week social and educational support class for families receiving the service. The researchers also plan to expand the program’s reach through social media, offering reminders for immunizations and healthy parenting tips via Facebook and text messages, indexed specifically for the age of the child.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to discover whether or not more is better,” Lieberman said. “We are just getting started, but we are excited. We think this can be a win-win situation.”

Teri Garstka, research associate at the Institute for Educational Research and Public Service, said her unit will use a rigorous experimental research design to gauge the effectiveness of the new programs, as compared to families not receiving the support program. Federal grant officials have shown a strong desire to fund rigorous evaluations of the programs to build evidence of their effectiveness on outcomes for pregnant teens and their babies.

If the new services prove effective, not only will it result in better programs and outcomes for families in Kansas, but also provide the kind of critical data the federal government can use to make decisions about funding programs that work for families in need, Garstka said.

Funds for the first year of the project total $825,245 — 30 percent of which is cash and in-kind matching funds from the project partners.

The Generations Project hopes to serve 220 families over five years in Shawnee and Wyandotte counties. KU is one of only 10 new recipients of the grant in the nation this fiscal year, and the $3 million figure was the maximum available grant amount.

“Our goal is for all families in Kansas to be healthy and prosper,” Lieberman said. “However we can contribute to that, I’ll be glad to be a part of.”

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