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MU Extension Program Receives Grant to Help Children of Incarcerated Parents

Model program helps incarcerated parents have better relationships with children; expands to four states

August 10th, 2011

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Mentored youth are more confident and perform better in school, are less likely to begin using drugs or alcohol, and have better relationships; it can be hard for children whose parents are incarcerated to receive the guidance they need. Now, a University of Missouri Extension program that addresses the needs of children with incarcerated parents is expanding to four other states as part of a nationwide mentoring project.  

MU Extension and 4-H youth development specialist Lynna Lawson says 4-H Living Interactive Family Education (LIFE) is designed to strengthen parent-child bonds, improve the quality of prison-based family visits, and increase parent and youth skills using modules from “Building Strong Families,” an MU Extension program that uses hands-on engagement to help families find and build their strengths, increase positive communication and improve family relationships.

4-H LIFE is one of three programs chosen by the National 4-H Council’s National Mentoring Program for replication by land-grant universities in 47 states, which will receive funding from a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 4-H LIFE will be reproduced in Alabama, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., and expanded in Missouri.

Lawson says the long-term goal of the program is to reduce the likelihood that parents will return to prison by preparing incarcerated participants to return to their communities. 4-H LIFE and Building Strong Families also equip the incarcerated parents with communication and decision-making skills they can use to lessen the probability that their children will be incarcerated in the future.

“It’s to help the kids have better relationships with their parents, and the parents have better relationships with their kids,” Lawson says.

Lucy Schrader is an MU Extension associate state specialist in the College of Human Environmental Sciences and program coordinator for Building Strong Families.

Currently, 4-H LIFE works with about 175 children who attend monthly meetings with their parents or caregivers at five correctional centers in Missouri. There, the participants work on traditional 4-H family recreation endeavors as well as Building Strong Families curriculum and hands-on activities that impart communication, decision-making, problem-solving and leadership skills.

“Building Strong Families and 4-H LIFE are based on research, but we’re not there lecturing,” says Lucy Schrader, MU Extension associate state specialist in the College of Human Environmental Sciences and program coordinator for Building Strong Families. “We want to help people figure it out for themselves and then apply what they have learned to their lives.”

Additionally, the parents attend regular parenting classes and planning meetings where they address family concerns and design educational activities, and the children often participate in other 4-H county programs that offer opportunities for mastery, generosity, independence and belonging.

Since 2000, 4-H LIFE has been a partnership among MU Extension, the Missouri Department of Corrections, and the National Children, Youth and Families at Risk Initiative. For more information about 4-H LIFE, visit  For more information about Building Strong Familes, visit