Although many participants asked the question “why didn’t this happen sooner?” others gave examples of existing collaboration. Some participants were aware of varied approaches to combine marriage education, financial education, and asset development. Financial management is often required or at least encouraged in healthy marriage grants and there are resources available online like marriage calculators, which a couple can use to estimate how marrying would affect their taxes and federal benefits. Federally-funded IDA programs such as the Assets for Independence Program provide informational resources to help interested grantees help incorporate elements of relationships and marriages into their educational programs. Many attendees noted that a fair number of HMI grantees funded by the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) and AFI grantees funded by the Office of Community Services (OCS) are located in the same areas. While AFI and OFA grantees have formed partnerships, there is the potential for additional collaboration due to their geographic proximity. (See map below for grantee locations). Though participants from each field suggested that some resources were available to help learn about other fields and relevant programming, it was also recognized that work days were full and following up can be difficult.
The program director from Better Family Life in St. Louis, MO shared her experiences working on the ground in integrating marriage education, financial literacy, and asset development. Better Family Life provides youth and family services including marriage education, workforce development, and asset building. Specifically they offer job readiness, financial literacy, and mortgage, real estate and housing education. For example, in their efforts to have marriage and financial services build upon each other, participants in their class for TANF recipients are given the opportunity to take healthy relationship classes as part of their program. EITC campaigns are also conducted through this organization, and participants in marriage education are invited to participate. Better Family Life offers a good example of how to successfully combine services and provides important lessons learned for future collaborative endeavors.
Other program approaches discussed by participants include developing referral networks. For example, some healthy relationship and marriage programs have developed partnerships with community and faith-based providers administering IDAs or providing financial education. Creating partnerships with nearby banks that offer financial products geared toward their populations served was also cited as an important strategy. Participants also recommended cross-trainings between the fields in order to establish multiple areas of expertise and also develop relationships among providers. The marriage development account concept, a modification of the individual development account structure for use with couples, is an example of an integrative model that offers an opportunity to learn about collaborating to provide synchronized financial and marriage services to couples. Finally, family and consumer science classes in middle and high schools were mentioned as potential settings for teaching both relationship and financial skills to youth.
Exhibit 1 Map of OFA-Funded Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Grantees and Assets for Financial Independence (AFI) Grantees
Participants were asked about potential barriers to collaboration during the roundtable and follow up calls. Some identified barriers included:
- Lack of understanding, or misunderstanding, of the goals of marriage education and the distinctions between promotion, counseling, and education.
- Including “marriage” terminology could deter willingness of some providers to collaborate.
- Unclear about the extent to which financial educators could become trained as marriage and relationship educators and vice versa.
- Lack of longitudinal research and clear definitions of success in each field make it difficult for some practitioners to know what elements to incorporate into programs.
- Staff turnover in the nonprofit sector makes it difficult to sustain collaborative efforts.
- Limited resources and funding for joint efforts.
Although some barriers were discussed, many participants believed that simply educating each field about the main goals and practices is an essential first step. Participants also felt that there was strong enough agreement about the overlapping goals of each field to overcome the identified barriers.
Participants also noted that including employment and related support service providers in the discussion about collaboration is critical, especially because enrollment in asset development programs is often dependent on employment.