Programs to enhance communication during divorce, prevent substance use in youth bring pride to retiring Extension specialist

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa,

Smiling family sits together on grass

While Barb Beaulieu has introduced a wide variety of family-centered programs within Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) Extension during her time as an extension specialist in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), she is most proud of the co-parenting education program, which offers education on communication strategies for parents going through divorce.

Barb Beaulieu

Barb BeaulieuPhoto provided

Indiana is one of the few states that leave the decision up to the individual judge in a divorce case whether a co-parenting education program is required for divorcing couples with minor children. Because of this, Beaulieu saw this program as a need for the state to help both the couple and the children involved, and it has steadily grown in the years since being introduced. During the 2021 program year, the co-parenting education program saw a record 1,000 participants.

“So many couples put children in the middle of the conflict, so if the parents can learn better communication skills and learn how to keep their children out of the middle, it will kind of break this cycle,” Beaulieu explained. “Many children are traumatized through divorce, and it has long-lasting effects. We feel like we can improve the mental health of these children who are going through turbulent times.”

Beaulieu also brought the Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 to HHS Extension. This seven-week program has been rated as the No. 1 substance-use prevention program for youth by the World Health Organization, and it allows parents and youth to meet both together and separately to set goals to make positive choices.

Through introducing these valuable programs, Beaulieu has seen her influence in the lives of families as well as future generations of adults, both in evaluations of the programs and the stories program participants have shared.

“Participants have come back and said, for example, ‘If I had been able to know this or have these skills before, I may not be getting a divorce,’” Beaulieu said. “Hopefully we’re giving them some skills so they may not make the same mistakes again.”

In addition to bringing programs to Indiana from places throughout the country, Beaulieu has also used research from Purdue’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies as a model for programs that benefit people within the state and beyond. These include a pilot program for parents on recognizing signs of substance use as well as a program about dialogic reading, or parents having a conversation with their children while they are reading to them. Programs like these that originate at Purdue allow researchers in the department to lean into the translational aspect of their research and offer real-world solutions to struggling families.

“That’s how I’ve seen my role as a specialist — it is using that research and trying to get information out to the residents to make it applicable and make a difference in lives,” Beaulieu said. “It’s more than just adding to the body of knowledge that we have. How can we take it and really use it?”

Beaulieu, an HDFS alumna, never imagined she would end up retiring from the department that helped her realize her passion. After having accumulated many awards and honors as the HDFS extension specialist over the past nine years, she is ready to embark on her next giant leap: retirement.

“My life has circled back to Purdue,” Beaulieu said. “My husband and I met at Purdue, and we both graduated from Purdue. We feel like our lives have been a full circle, and all the other jobs I had in between just led me to this position to do what I absolutely love.”

Visit the HHS Extension website to view a complete list of programs and connect with your county educator.

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