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Twenty-Five Years of Service: CYFC, the University, and Our Surrounding Communities

By Mina Blyly-Strauss, Graduate Research Assistant; Cari Michaels, Extension Educator; and Judy Myers, Extension Educator — Children, Youth & Family Consortium

For the past 25 years, the Extension Children, Youth & Family Consortium (CYFC) has engaged in collaborative interdisciplinary work within and around the University of Minnesota.

Over the years, our programmatic foci and strategies have shifted with the introduction of new leadership and staff who bring different disciplinary backgrounds and strengths to their work. Throughout current CYFC programming, we view the world through an ecological lens in raising awareness of the need to support mental well-being. One of our Advisory Board member’s, Antonia Wilcoxon of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, shared this about CYFC's programming:
I find that the Consortium is a wonderful gathering place for "all things" related to children, youth, and families. It supports communities, institutions, and parents to be better informed about what works best for the most valuable asset in all communities: our children and youth.
In honor of 25 years of engaged work, we are sharing 25 interesting facts and resources from CYFC that are part of our foundation, reflect our values, and inform our future. We encourage you to take advantage of the resources highlighted and linked in this blog post and to reach out to us if you’re curious to learn more.

1. Keeping the focus on partnerships and systems change from the start.

CYFC was founded within the University of Minnesota in November of 1991. From the very beginning, it sought to bring together researchers and community to engage in an interdisciplinary manner around critical issues for children, youth, and families.

CYFC’s initial mission was: “to bring together the varied competencies of the University of Minnesota and the vital resources of Minnesota's communities to enhance the ability of individuals and organizations to address critical health, education, and social policy concerns in ways that improve the well-being of Minnesota children, youth, and families” (Weinberg & Erickson, 1996). While there were many different types of activities that CYFC engaged in to heighten its visibility and convene people around current issues during its first five years, the then director noted that, “...our primary intent is to focus our energy and resources toward systems change” (Erickson & Weinberg, 1998).

2. Connecting closely with Extension and the University’s land-grant mission.

Though initially conceptualized and implemented as an independent center within the U of M for many years, CYFC has had connections to Extension from its early days. For example, CYFC worked with Extension, Continuing Education, and Early Childhood Studies to create a new certification program for children, youth, and family workers.

To learn more about how CYFC got its start and its early years, check out the 1996 article Minnesota’s Children, Youth, and Family Consortium: A University-Community Collaboration and the 1998 book chapter The Children, Youth, and Family Consortium: A University of Minnesota/Community Partnership.

text from the start of chapter 9 in the book
From University-Community Collaborations for the Twenty-First Century: Outreach Scholarship for Youth and Families.

3. Working across Extension.

CYFC is currently working across Extension in Minnesota and beyond to promote education about mental health, share research and educational materials that tie mental health with other areas of work, and engage new partners. To join a national listserv about Extension and children’s mental health, contact CYFC Extension Educator Cari Michaels at

If you work for U of M Extension, you can also register for the August 15 webinar, From private to public health concern: Mental health across Minnesota (login required).

4. Engaging Community and University advisors.

CYFC’s Advisory Board consists of people from within Extension, from the wider U of M community as well as communities beyond the university’s walls. The Advisory Board is a valuable human resource for informing and supporting our work. Board member Rebecca Shlafer, U of M Department of Pediatrics, shared this:
I love that CYFC is committed to translating science on children, youth, and family issues to key stakeholders across the state. For me, being involved is about connecting with colleagues who care deeply about promoting the health and well-being of all children and families in Minnesota.

5. Working within an ecological framework.

What we do in CYFC is situated within an ecological framework for human development, understanding that development is not solely the task of an individual. Rather, development is shaped through interactions with the people in an individual’s family and friendship circles, community, policies that impact them, and broader social culture. Our Circles of Influence model draws these connections between the well-being of children and youth and the interactions between what’s going on within and outside of them.

visual representation of the multi-layered influences underlying the issue of educational disparities

6. Highlighting children’s mental health and wellness.

In 2003, the Center of Excellence in Children’s Mental Health (CECMH), funded through the President’s Initiative on Children, Youth & Families, was launched within CYFC. CECMH sought collaborative action to promote children’s mental health — linking research, policy, and practice. Much of CYFC’s current work has ties to CECMH.

The first issue of CECMH's newsletter.

7. Using a public health lens.

Mental health is a public health issue. CYFC uses this lens to promote children’s mental well-being. Our short video Mental Health: Yours, Mine & Ours explores this topic. In addition, our web page on Children’s Mental Health as a Public Health Issue contains discussion questions and resource guides on related research looking at connections between mental health and areas such as nutrition, sleep, exercise, and poverty.

screenshot of video "Mental Health: Yours, Mine & Ours" related to changing policies
A moment from the Mental Health: Yours, Mine & Ours video.
This video has been viewed almost 4,000 times on YouTube.

8. Publishing practical research information online.

CYFC’s publication, the Children’s Mental Health eReview, has taken an in-depth look at research and practice related to children’s mental health since its inception in 2009. The topics over the years have ranged from attachment and adoption outcomes and trauma-informed child welfare systems to risk and resilience in homelessness to historical trauma to parenting when in stress and coparenting to Latino educational disparities and transgender youth.

three covers from recent issues of CYFC's eReview
A sample of eReview covers from the past two years. For the full list, visit

9. Partnering with University of Minnesota faculty.

This past year, CYFC launched a Scholar in Residence Program with Extension and Family Social Science Associate Professor Jenifer McGuire, Ph.D. as the inaugural scholar. The Scholars in Residence Program allows faculty members to work closely with CYFC staff to reach communities throughout Minnesota. Together, the scholar and CYFC staff deepen their scholarship through presentations, publications, and creation of other educational materials.

10. Hosting presentations throughout Minnesota.

For over a decade, the Lessons from the Field lecture series has offered professional development hours for those interested in topics related to children’s mental health. This past year, Lessons from the Field brought together CYFC Scholar in Residence Jenifer McGuire, SNAP-Ed Educator Nathan Hesse, and CYFC Extension Educator Cari Michaels. This trio addressed the topic of Meeting the Needs of Transgender Youth in a series of events throughout the state of Minnesota. The full lectures from many of our past Lessons from the Field events can be found on the CYFC YouTube channel.

A small group discussion from first Lessons from the Field event.
Read more here: Regional Community Discussions on Transgender Issues Begin.

11. Examining the historical roots of health.

CYFC has addressed the topic of historical trauma and its impacts in the present day through a variety of efforts. If you are interested in engaging more deeply with this topic, see our eReview publication about Historical Trauma and Microaggressions, recordings from the related Lessons from the Field event, a short three-part video series on Historical Trauma and Cultural Healing, the discussion questions that accompany the three short videos, and resource guides with suggested research articles, books, and videos.

A snapshot from the first video in the Historical Trauma and Cultural Healing series, What is Historical Trauma?

12. Examining public policy that affects children and families.

Between 2008 and 2010, CYFC sponsored several Family Impact Seminars, designed to promote a family perspective in policy development, convene dialogue among policymakers, analyze the impact public policies have on families, and connect family-relevant research and state policymaking. In 2008 the seminar was focused on creating a responsive and accountable early childhood system, in 2009 it focused on special education finance, and in 2010 the focus was evidence-informed policy making.

covers from the three briefing reports of the Family Impact Seminars
Covers from the three briefing reports of the Family Impact Seminars.

13. Partnering with state government.

Many professionals representing higher education institutions, state government agencies, and non-profit organizations are connecting with one another to promote children’s mental health as a public health issue. CYFC and Extension are working with the Minnesota Department of Health to help launch a Minnesota Mental Health and Resilience Learning Community. If you would like to know when this learning community has launched, send a note to Cari Michaels.

14. Understanding Minnesota school mental health services.

Schools are a primary place for promoting social and emotional learning and delivering mental health services. In 2007, however, there was no published research examining these services on a statewide level. At this time, CYFC staff conducted a survey of Minnesota school representatives and identified the existence and use of curricula, out-of-school time activities, parent liaisons, and other supports. Check out the findings in the report of findings for the Survey of Social/Emotional Supports and Services in Minnesota Schools.

15. Increasing awareness of early childhood development through public exhibition and dialogue.

CYFC partnered with the Science Museum of Minnesota, the U of M Center for Early Childhood Education & Development, the U of M Institute of Child Development, and Public Agenda to create an interactive museum exhibit. Wonder Years: The Science of Early Childhood brought stakeholders together to discuss early childhood research.

wonder years logo
Although only a portion of the original installation remains at the Science Museum today, you can see many of the activities that were there for years in this video: Wonder Years Overview. As part of the exhibit, we also partnered with Twin Cities Public Television to produce the documentary Brighter Futures: Childhood in Balance that played in the Wonder Years exhibit.

two teenage girls look at a screen

16. Shining a light on parental incarceration’s impact on families.

Incarcerated and Pregnant: Promoting the Health of Mothers and Babies is a short video that CYFC co-produced with the U of M’s School of Public Health Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Public Health.

screenshot from the "Incarcerated and Pregnant" video
Screenshot from the Incarcerated and Pregnant video.

CYFC has also addressed the topic of incarcerated parents through an issue of the eReview, a Lessons from the Field event, a Research to Practice event, assembling recommendations for improving visitation, and creating a list of children’s literature related to the topic.

17. Strengthening connections to address children’s mental health.

CYFC’s children’s mental health work began with a 2004 launching event attended by over 150 people. Many of them participated in ongoing workgroups to support the growth of our work, and those leading each workgroup became our first children’s mental health steering committee. Learn about CYFC’s early children’s mental health work in this 2006 issue of Consortium Connections.

18. Building resources for professionals and families about gender variances.

The Transgender Toolkit grew from CYFC’s collaboration with our inaugural Scholar in Residence, Dr. McGuire, whose research focuses on transgender youth. In this toolkit, you will find a variety of resources such as key terms, our eReview about the mental health of transgender youth, annotated bibliographies of related research and children’s literature, videos about the topic, and more.

Visit the full toolkit here:

19. Using creative electronic storytelling.

CYFC’s two Children’s Mental Health Case Studies bring to life realistic families as they work to address the mental health needs of their children. About Steven follows a boy and his family from early childhood into his adolescence and is currently available to the public here: Children's Mental Health Case Studies. Our second case study follows Brianna, her baby, and their family from the prenatal period through the end of her kindergarten year.

a snippet from CYFC's online case study about Brianna, her baby, and their family
A snippet from CYFC's forthcoming online case study.

To partner with CYFC to use this case with your audience, contact CYFC Extension Educator Cari Michaels.

20. Addressing needs of children with traumatic experiences.

Childhood trauma is a topic that CYFC has focused on over the years. We produced a short video about Trauma and Trauma Sensitive Practices in Early and Middle Childhood, a number of related Lessons from the Field events, a day of Research to Practice lectures, and several eReview issues on topics such as what trauma is, trauma’s impact on infants, and the impacts of child maltreatment.

a moment from the Trauma Sensitive Practice in Schools video and the cover of the March 2013 eReview
A moment from the Trauma Sensitive Practice in Schools video and the cover of the March 2013 eReview.

21. Fostering healthy school culture for students and staff alike.

The Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners partnership has brought together Bruce Vento Elementary School, CYFC, the U of M College of Design, Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, and Family Innovations in an effort to create a healthier school community for students, their families, and the staff that work with them. To learn more about this partnership, check out the videos, blogs, and related resources on the CYFC website.

screenshot of HMBL web page
To learn more about the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners project, visit

22. Supporting community/University networks that address community mental health challenges.

CYFC has been a part of the Cultural Providers Network (CPN) since CPN’s inception in 2007. CPN is a network of individuals from a variety of disciplines as well as parents and other stakeholders who share an interest in improving mental health for children and families in communities of color. To learn more and get involved, visit CPN’s website.

screenshot of CPN website

23. Promoting systems and policy change.

CYFC has focused time and other resources on child welfare systems, such as producing the eReview issue Creating Trauma Informed Systems of Care. Professionals working in the child welfare system have also been frequent attendees at our Lessons from the Field events. The Lesson on Secondary Traumatic Stress seemed to have particular relevance to their work experiences.

As a part of the Child Welfare and Education Learning Community (CWELC), CYFC staff have also worked with other researchers, practitioners, and policymakers from Minnesota, Illinois, and North Carolina to address the issues at the intersections of education and child welfare. As part of CWELC, CYFC engaged in focus group research and helped produce the Minnesota child welfare and education focus group report, an infographic of the results, and a video: Child Welfare and Education Systems: Cooperation & Collaboration.

A snippet from the CWELC infographic. See the full infographic here:

24. Singing out loud ‘Together We Can’

In its first year, CYFC Director Marti Erickson wrote a theme song for the Consortium entitled “Together We Can.” You can find more such interesting tidbits (as well as much more in-depth stories from CYFC’s past) by checking out old Consortium Connections publications.

25. Staying informed and becoming a part of what is to come!

We have a newly-updated online monthly newsletter full of resources, events, and links to help you support children, youth and families and stay up to date on CYFC happenings. You can find past newsletter issues and subscribe on our website. Through interdisciplinary partnerships, CYFC has done the aforementioned and more over the past 25 years and will continue to push forward, addressing a range of important issues impacting children, youth, and families within our society. We welcome you to partner with us as we move into the future! To connect with us, email Cari Michaels (Extension Educator), Judy Myers (Extension Educator), Mina Blyly-Strauss (Graduate Research Assistant), or Mary Marczak (Director).

In closing, we’ll share a thought from another of our advisory board members, Linda Lindeke from the U of M School of Nursing:
The University of Minnesota's Children, Youth & Family Consortium (CYFC) continues to be one of the university's most productive and effective models of community engagement. For more than 25 years, CYFC has brought together a wide range of experts and learners from the university and practice community within partnerships focused on the most pressing issues of the day for children and families. The output of CYFC demonstrates its commitment to tackling the biggest challenges at grassroots, program, and policy levels with considerable success. The dedicated CYFC faculty and staff effectively and widely disseminate CYFC's collective wisdom and experiential lessons learned using a variety of media.

CYFC’s work remains as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. Interdisciplinary collaborations across university and community lines are still needed to address the challenges facing today’s children, youth, and families. We extend many thanks to those who have helped CYFC achieve 25 years of interdisciplinary partnerships focused on addressing pressing issues facing children, youth and families. At the same time, we extend an open hand to those with similar interests who may join with CYFC into the coming decades to continue this critical work which has yet to be complete.

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