Intergenerational program has benefits for children, older adults

November 11, 2003

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- In a time when children often live far from their grandparents and older adults tend to be isolated from others, special ways must be found for children and older adults to interact. A program through Kansas State University is designed to create bonds between children and older adults throughout the state of Kansas. And the evaluations of that program are showing that these interactions are valuable and meaningful to all involved.

Bronwyn Fees, an assistant professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at K-State, is the program evaluator for the Personal Actions to Health Across the Generations -- or PATH -- program. In March Fees received a four-year grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to follow the development of these relationships and evaluate the program's reach and effectiveness. The program is also funded by the foundation. Mike Bradshaw, an associate professor of family studies and human services serves as the primary investigator.

More than 50 sites across Kansas receive funding through the program to encourage children and older adults to interact. Each site develops its own plan for the interactions, in a way that meets the needs of the children and older adults in the particular community, Fees said.

"The intent is to create meaningful relationships for a higher quality of life that contributes to the whole community," she said. The ages of the children participating range from preschoolers to adolescents, and depend on the community.

Fees is looking at how the program affects the children and adults, particularly how sites maintain their programs, program reach and the effects of interaction, particularly what the children and older adults are learning about one another.

Fees, who recently co-authored a paper in press on children's perceptions of older adults, has found that the participating children are less fearful of older adults -- they recognize that older adults have knowledge to share and see them as resources, for example. The older adults, in turn, have become very concerned about the youth in their communities as a result of the program. They worry about drug and alcohol abuse and are concerned about the children's family life.

"Older adults perceive that some children don't get enough individualized attention," Fees said. "They say that some children don't have anyone to talk to, and they see themselves as an alternative. They feel they are contributing to the children's lives in a meaningful way."

She said the older adults have enjoyed supporting the children and sharing their talents and experiences with them.

"The program is validating for the older adults and exciting for the children," Fees said. "We tend to isolate the activities of older adults from the activities of those younger," Fees said. "This program gives the opportunity for children and adults to engage in meaningful ways with one another."
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The Kansas Health Foundation, Wichita, is a philanthropic organization whose mission is to improve the health of all Kansans.

Kansas State University

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