April 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA5

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Using Community Access Cable in an Extension Parenting Education Program

Broadcasting parent education programs via community access cable channels can be an effective means of reaching parents with information. Utah State University Extension formed partnerships with community groups and local cable providers to develop and air programs on teen sexuality and substance abuse prevention. A follow-up survey found general community support for the broadcast format and program content. The findings also suggest a successful broadcast must be preceded by extensive advertising. Community collaboration to create local productions can strengthen support, build community ownership, and improve the overall effectiveness of this type of educational effort.

Steve A. Dennis
Extension Intern
Department of Family and Human Development
Internet address: slxlj@cc.usu.edu

Thomas R. Lee
Extension Specialist
Professor of Family and Human Development

Glen O. Jenson
Extension Specialist
Professor of Family and Human Development

Utah State University

With nearly 80% of teenagers sexually experienced by the age of 19 (Miller & Moore, 1991), and over 50% having experimented with gateway drugs by the age 14 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990), many Extension programs have been directed to address these youth problems. Successful programs to address youth problems must involve the family (Lee & Goddard, 1989). Yet work schedules, family responsibilities, or uneasiness about sharing family problems in public settings often prevent parents from seeking help. As a result, traditional program delivery methods often fail to reach the parents who need help most.

Although parent education and support is essential to successful interventions, programs should also extend beyond the family. Winters' (1990) review of drug intervention programs suggests successful programs incorporate action and support at multiple social levels, including the family, school, and community. Utah State University's "Parenting for Prevention" and "FACTS and feelings" Extension programs have expanded community support and defrayed costs by tapping businesses, volunteers, and community access cable resources.

Project Overview

Both the "Parenting for Prevention" and the "FACTS and feelings" programs consist of video and print materials designed to encourage parents to discuss the problems of drug use and teen sexuality with their children and establish clear family expectations.

"FACTS and feelings" consists of six programs designed to assist parents and youth in discussing human sexuality. The programs present information about: (a) adolescent physical and social changes, (b) sexual values, (c) reproductive facts, (d) sexual meanings, (e) decision-making, and (f) assertiveness and refusal skills. The program conveys an abstinence message and targets families with youth, ages 10-14 (Lee, Dennis, Jenson & Miller, 1994; Miller, Norton, Jenson, Lee, Christopherson & King, 1993).

"Parenting for Prevention" approaches drug prevention from the premise that good family relations and clear expectations can reduce the risk of substance use. The programs address: (a) who's at risk, (b) active listening, (c) creating family memories with family time, (d) managing conflict, (e) using family meetings to establish a clear position against drugs, and (e) developing refusal skills. The program targets families with children 5-14 years of age.

Tapping Community Resources

Involving the community is an important but difficult step in strengthening the efforts made by families, schools, and youth groups. One means of soliciting community support and reaching "hard to reach" families is through the use of cable television. Most communities with cable television have a community access channel. These channels provide opportunities for communities to broadcast town meetings, local activities, or provide community information and education.

Atkin and LaRose (1988) report that nationally 60% of all homes serviced by cable television had at least one community access channel, and 16% of those surveyed reported viewing a community channel within the week preceding their interview. These community channels have been used to broadcast a variety of local events and community education programs (Allen, 1986; Baca & Palmer, 1985; Hardenberg, 1986; Smith, 1981).

To test the potential of this educational resource, Utah State University (USU) formed a partnership with a local cable provider to use the community access channel, known as "The Valley Channel." The USU College of Family Life in cooperation with the university's telecommunication facility and The Valley Channel produced a series of programs known as "Family Life Windows." This series consisted primarily of existing Extension video curricula coupled with an added in-studio discussion following each video program. The "Parenting for Prevention" programs were created specifically for the series and gained community support by drawing actors and experts from the local Drug-Free Youth club, D.A.R.E. program, and other community drug prevention efforts. "Family Life Windows" was broadcast every Wednesday evening at 7:30 and 10:00 p.m. and frequently at unscheduled times during the day. Since most of the programs were directed at parents, an evening time was deemed most appropriate. "FACTS and feelings" and "Parenting for Prevention" were shown over a twelve week period as part of this series.

Programs were advertised through newspapers, flyers, radio announcements, and over other cable channels. A "Parenting for Prevention" newsletter promoted the program and contained a short synopsis of each of the six programs along with alternative viewing options for families without cable access. The newsletters were distributed to 24,000 families of elementary and middle-school children in three counties with the help of the PTA. Several schools also advertised the programs through their own PTA newsletter.


To determine the effectiveness of using the local cable channel to provide community education programs, a survey was mailed with customer billings to 14,000 households. Due to funding limitations, it was not possible to do a follow-up mailing. However, to encourage cable customers to return their completed surveys, respondents were entered into a prize drawing to be held at a "Reach for a Natural High" night. Assisted by the marketing expertise of the cable service provider, the drawing and "Reach for a Natural High" night became a major event with significant community and business sponsorship.

Despite these efforts, the survey yielded a modest 4.5% response rate. Of the 638 surveys returned (males = 232, females = 388), only 48 respondents watched one or more of the "Parenting for Prevention" programs (six respondents watched all the programs) and 65 respondents watched one or more of the "FACTS and feelings" programs (10 respondents watched all the programs).

The majority of those who returned the surveys did not have children of the targeted ages (n = 426). Still, 86% of all respondents felt the programs provided good information and was a good use of tax dollars. And 75% of the all respondents said they would have watched had they known about the programs. Of those who viewed the programs, over half had been informed of the programs through their school PTA. About 44% had seen the programs when flipping channels, and 21% had learned of the programs through the "Parenting for Prevention" newsletter. In general, those who had seen the programs were very positive about the information they provided. Over half of the viewers reported that the program had sparked a discussion with their child, which was the major goal of the project.


Perhaps the most surprising finding from the survey was the number of parents who had not heard about the program despite the advertising efforts. This signals the importance of using multiple avenues in promoting Extension programs. Currently, the program is being expanded to other Utah counties. To increase public awareness, quarterly newsletters are being distributed through the PTA and additional Public Service Announcements (PSA) have been distributed via radio and newspaper.

Because only a minority of the respondents had elementary or middle school aged children, it seems likely that the hectic lives of parents with young children prevented them from taking time to complete and return the survey as readily as households without children. Rachman (1985) suggests mail surveys are more likely to be completed by older and better educated individuals. This appears to be the case with this survey. It is likely that the survey underestimated the number of younger parents who actually viewed the program, since young parents are less likely to return surveys. Anecdotal reports to the authors and others in collaborating community agencies, suggest that more parents viewed the program than the survey indicated. Additional parents also viewed the programs in other cable areas not surveyed. Considering this, it appears that with ample advertising, public access channels are a viable medium of broadcasting community education programs. Furthermore, the active community involvement at multiple levels helped reduce costs, build community ownership, and improve the overall effectiveness of this educational effort.


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Atkin, D. & LaRose, R. (1988, July). News and information on community access channels: Market concerns amidst the marketplace of ideas. Paper presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Portland, OR.

Baca, M. L. & Palmer, G. (1985). Cable TV: A valuable learning resource. NASSP Bulletin, 69, 93-94.

Hardenberg, M. (1986). Promise vs. performance: A case study of four public access channels in Connecticut. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Journalism and Mass Communication, Norman, Oklahoma, August 3-6. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 271 748)

Lee, T. R., Dennis, S. A., Jenson, G. O., & Miller, B. C. (1994). FACTS and feelings: Bridging the gap to home-based sexuality education. Family Perspective, 28(1), 15-29.

Lee, T. R., & Goddard, H. W. (1989). Developing family relationship skills to prevent substance abuse among high-risk youth. Family Relations, 38, 301-305.

Miller, B. C., & Moore, K. A. (1991). Adolescent sexual behavior, pregnancy, and parenting. In A. Booth (Ed.), Contemporary families: Looking forward, looking back, (pp. 307-326). Minneapolis, MN: National Council on Family Relations.

Miller, B. C., Norton, M. C., Jenson, G. O., Lee, T. R., Christopherson, C., & King, P. K. (1993). Impact evaluation of FACTS and feelings: A home-based video sex education curriculum. Family Relations, 42(4), 392-400.

Rachman, D. J. (1985). Marketing today. Chicago: Dryden Press.

Smith, D. R. (1981). Community television and the Monroe county public library. Catholic Library World, 53(3), 122-124.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse. (1990). Drug abuse among youth: Findings from the 1988 national household survey on drug abuse. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Winters, P. A. (1990). Getting high: Components of successful drug education programs. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 35(2), 20-23.