December 6, 2010

Extension Hotlines Are Available to All Iowans

By Sarah Gonzalez
Iowa State University Extension Scott County

Iowa teens with questions about eating disorders, problem gamblers seeking help breaking the gambling habit, victims of summer flooding and families struggling with their finances can call hotlines 24 hours a day for confidential, free help. Hotlines available through Iowa State University Extension make one-on-one assistance for almost any issue a simple phone call away.

A call center in Urbandale, managed by ISU Extension, has a staff of 10 that are scheduled around the clock to take calls for several hotlines: Iowa Concern, BETS OFF, Teen Line, 211 and Healthy Families. The certified informational and referral call center staff include a registered nurse, an attorney and two to four topic specialists that take calls daily. Aided by hotline-specific databases, they connect the caller with helpful information or consultants and resources in the caller’s county, all the while patiently listening and providing guidance. The 1-800-447-1985 Iowa Concern number is the most frequently used hotline the call center answers.

Margaret Van Ginkel, ISU Extension family resource management specialist, said the busiest times for Iowa Concern hotline are during disasters or crises, such as floods or the H1N1 flu virus. Many calls to Iowa Concern are related to legal issues, according to Van Ginkel, but they also receive calls with agricultural, custody, divorce and mortgage questions. The hotlines can be stress management tools for callers, one they consult with multiple times. When Tammy and other staff members answer a call, they “talk about the caller’s issue, work through things and connect the caller with resources.”

Call Center Hotlines Address a Variety of Issues

Each hotline number managed by the call center has a specific audience or purpose. By calling Iowa Concern (800-447-1985) callers have access to an attorney for legal education, stress counselors and information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. Teen Line (800-443-8336) offers confidential assistance for teens and parents. The BETS OFF (800-BETS-OFF) or (800-238-7633), funded by Iowa Department of Public Health, addresses gambling-related problems and guides callers to providers around the state who offer gambling counseling. Families Answer Line (800-262-3804) addresses everything from everyday household problems to child development and nutrition questions. Hortline (515) 294-3108 provides assistance to home gardeners on lawn, garden, and ornamental questions with hours Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Sarah Gonzalez, Extension Communications and External Relations, Iowa State University Extension Scott Sounty,can be reached at 515-294-9807 or