Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education: Strengthening Family Bonds and Increasing Economic Independence
Consistent with President Trump’s Executive Order on Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility, HHS’s Strategic Plan sets goals for HHS to support strong families and healthy marriage, and prepare children and youth for healthy, productive lives (Objective 3.3). This blog is part of the Self-Sufficiency Series: Solutions from the Field, which profiles local programs from across the country finding solutions to accomplish these goals.
President Trump’s Executive Order provides a framework that includes marriage and work as strategies to help society’s most vulnerable members achieve economic independence, reduce poverty, and strengthen family bonds.
Since 2006, HHS, through its Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Family Assistance (OFA), has overseen a $150 million initiative to conduct Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood promotion activities. Of that amount, $75 million each year is designated for healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE). OFA’s HMRE efforts are strong examples of how communities across the country work to achieve the administration’s and HHS’s goals, including those related to supporting strong families and healthy marriage.
Growing up with two parents in a stable, low-conflict family can improve children’s lives in a broad range of areas. We know, however, that economic and other challenges faced by low-income families can make it hard for them to achieve a stable environment. In view of the challenges and potential benefits of healthy marriages and relationships, OFA currently funds 46 HMRE programs in 27 states and the territory of Guam.
One example of these programs is University Behavioral Associations in Bronx, New York, now Montefiore Medical Center, which received HMRE funding in all three rounds. UBA/Montefiore’s Supporting Healthy Relationships program delivers services on building healthy relationships and marriages to 300 married and unmarried couples each year. Because economic pressures and instability contribute to diminished financial support and relationship and marital dysfunction, UBA/Montefiore provides services that combine the Supporting Healthy Relationships curriculum-based education and training with efforts to address the economic stability needs of their participants, such as through job search assistance.
Felicia and Grayson, for instance, are program participants and parents of two young children. They came to UBA/Montefiore for relationship help and were active participants during a retreat-style version of the Supporting Healthy Relationships core curriculum. Income was a stress point in their relationship, so Felicia was excited about the employment services offered. Felicia trained to become a home health aide and enhanced her interview skills and confidence through mock interviews. She eventually landed a full-time job with benefits in the healthcare field. Felicia and Grayson said they were very grateful for the all the services they received.
UBA/Montefiore was also one of the HMRE programs included in a rigorous, large-scale healthy marriage impact study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research for ACF. The Parents and Children Together (PACT) study was an evaluation of 1,595 couples enrolled in two HMRE programs that were funded in 2011. In June 2018, ACF released the PACT findings, which demonstrated significant impacts of the healthy marriage programming activities. Briefly, the findings show that UBA/Montefiore and a similar program:
- Improved couples’ commitment and support and affection, and helped couples avoid destructive conflict behaviors.
- Increased the likelihood that couples were married at the one-year follow-up.
- Improved couples’ co-parenting relationships.
Programs like UBA/Montefiore are a key part of HHS’s community-based efforts to assist socially, economically and developmentally vulnerable individuals and families. Together, these programs help achieve administration and HHS objectives and are designed to grow the capacity of adult individuals and couples to attain self-sufficiency, to strengthen family bonds, and to improve the long-term well-being and stability of their children and their communities.
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