In the late 1990s the State of Oklahoma, recognizing the economic and social consequences of its high rates of divorce and non-marital childbearing, undertook an innovative strategy to strengthen families.В At the direction of the Governor, the state initiated an effort to reduce divorce and decrease non-marital childbearing.В This pioneering effort became the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI), now the nations longest running and most comprehensive set of programs to strengthen marriage.В Although many communities and a few states have begun activities to support marriage, facilitated in part by the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative of the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services, Oklahoma was the first to commit to making marriage and relationship education services accessible in every county in the state and to citizens from all walks of life.В Approximately five to ten percent of Oklahoma households have participated in OMI workshops.
The OMI has gained momentum as concern about the often negative effects of divorce and nonmarital childbearing on children, communities, and the broader society has come to light. A consensus of social science research has found that children raised in single parent families are, on average, at higher risk of poverty and a wide range of negative consequences. By giving the OMI a broad mission to strengthen and improve relationships, the creators and leaders of the initiative hope to create widespread social change with respect to marriage and divorce. They expect that helping people develop better relationship skills will prevent the kind of marital distress that leads to divorce, prepare unmarried individuals for a healthy marriage, and reduce the number of children who grow up in single parent households, thereby improving the wellbeing of Oklahomas children and their families. As the initiatives services become more widely available, known and used, OMI leaders anticipate that changes in norms and attitudes about marriage will follow, strengthening the institution of marriage at the individual and community level. To create this widespread societal change, the OMI focuses on improving the relationship skills of its residents.