Oklahoma sought to embed marriage education services within existing programs and agencies, but spent several years looking for the right opportunities and niches. To help make marriage education more broadly available, the OMI team began training local community members and professionals to deliver the PREP curriculum. The OMI staff also learned that providers, whether public agencies, community volunteers, or counselors, needed more infrastructure and ongoing support than first thought, which led to the development of a service delivery system. Providing services through existing agencies and programs whenever possible was an early principle that still guides the OMI.
The OMI Established a Principle of Building on Existing Infrastructure to Deliver Services. Early in its development, a guiding principle was established for the OMI to build on existing infrastructure and systems to deliver marriage education services. DHS and PSI assumed that PSIs main role would be to serve as a clearinghouse for materials and information, and to provide PREP training to interested volunteers and organizations. In keeping with this principle, the OMI approached three government agencies that operated programs serving families, and explored the possibility of training their staff either to provide the PREP program to interested couples and individuals (the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Services and the Child Guidance program within Oklahomas Department of Health), or to refer clients to PREP workshops (TANF program staff within local DHS offices).
Initial Attempts To Train Public Agency Staff Were Disappointing At First, But Eventually Led To A Broad Service Delivery System. Sometimes trained staff were unable to attract as many workshop participants as hoped, or to institutionalize marriage education classes within their agencies. For example, some DHS workers were hesitant or uncertain about how to refer TANF clients to PREP workshops. However, the OMI staff used these early experiences to identify the challenges and refine their methods accordingly. They learned that while basing OMI programs in existing agencies and programs was practical, a more formal infrastructure was needed to implement and maintain marriage education services on the desired scale. Support was needed in identifying host agencies and programs, developing ongoing training, recruiting and referring participants, and providing venues for classes and programs. As another strategy to increase the scale of the program, PREP training was offered free of charge to any interested community member or local professional, including therapists, marriage counselors, and social workers. In exchange for the free training, these individuals agreed to provide at least four free marriage education workshops within their practices or organizations, or to refer interested participants to such courses.
The OMI eventually established a broad service delivery system in public sectors (including education, health, social services, corrections, and the military) and in the private sector (including the clergy, local community organizations, and individual counselors). Thus, a key strength that sustained the OMI was that it was adapted and refined based on implementation experiences. Development of this OMI service delivery structure and the implementation of OMI services in these sectors is an important focus of other briefs in this series.