Oklahoma Marriage Initiative: An Overview of the Longest-Running Statewide Marriage Initiative in the U.S.: Research Brief. Building Statewide Capacity to Deliver Relationship Skills Education


Training and Supporting Public and Private Providers. To build the states capacity to deliver relationship skills workshops, the OMI focused on two broad approaches: training the staff of public agencies to provide workshops for their clients, and training private individuals who wish to serve their own local communities.

The OMI focused on training public agency staff for several reasons. First, engaging government and other agencies in delivering services could be an effective way to gain public support for the initiatives goals. Second, public agencies tend to serve low-income clients, who otherwise may be difficult to reach. And third, such agencies tend to have a statewide infrastructure or network of staff that might be enlisted to efficiently support workshop delivery throughout the state. As shown in Table 1, the OMI has worked with institutions and agencies in several sectors, including Education, Health, Corrections, Social Services, and the Military, whose employees, when providing PREP workshops, do so as a part of their regular jobs.

There is broad variation in the origins and underlying motivation for implementing OMI services in these particular agencies. In some cases, implementation occurred in response to a policy priority, such as policies to support adoptive/foster parents or to increase accessibility of services to low-income families. In other cases, the implementation was motivated by research, such as the finding that Oklahomans tend to marry young (which contributed to the focus on educating high school students). Other populations, like prisoners, are a focus of the OMI because the relevant agency recognized a need for relationship services for its clientele and requested the OMIs help. Future briefs will provide more detailed information on the motivation, evolution, and development of OMI services for the specific populations served by these public agencies and will discuss why some institutions have been more involved in the OMI than others.

Table 1.
Selected Public Agencies Involved in Providing OMI Services
Sector Oklahoma Agency Sponsor Target Population Workshop Leaders
Education Department of Career Technology High school students Family and Consumer Sciences teachers
Oklahoma State University (OSU) Cooperative Extension Services Adult students; GED class participants OSU educators
Corrections Department of Corrections Prison inmates and their partners/spouses Prison chaplains
Association of Youth Services (OAYS) Adolescent first offenders and their parents OAYS staff
Health Department of Health (OSDH), Child Guidance Parents Child Guidance counselors
Social Services Department of Human Services (DHS) TANF recipients DHS and PSI staff
Department of Human Services (DHS) Adoptive and foster parents DHS and PSI staff
Community Action or Head Start agencies Low-income parents Head Start workers
Military Army, Air Force, and National Guard Members of the military and their partners/spouses; base and post employees Family Advocacy and Family Support staff; chaplains; Employee Assistance Counselors

To help make relationship skills education more widely available at the community level, the OMI also emphasized building capacity for service delivery in local communities. In exchange for receiving free workshop training from the PREP curriculum developers, volunteers agree to provide at least four free workshops in their communities. These volunteer workshop leaders generally function independently of public agencies or programs and decide for themselves where, when and to whom they will offer workshops. Although the majority of the independent workshop leaders are not paid through their jobs or the OMI for their time when delivering OMI services, some have incorporated PREP as one of the services offered in their private professional practices, such as mental health counseling, or marriage and family therapy. Many volunteers are members of the faith community, such as pastors or counselors, but a wide range of individuals from other areas have also been trained, including individuals representing law enforcement, business, and family services.

Stimulating Development of Workshop Adaptations. As the OMI expanded services, it became clear that adaptations were sometimes needed, both to the core curriculum itself and in the delivery of the curriculum. The most common type of adaptation  a presentation adaptation  is made by local workshop leaders or OMI staff and involves changes to illustrations or examples used in the curriculum, but not to overall content. For example, chaplains teaching PREP in Oklahoma prisons may refer to the unique challenges of communicating with a partner on the outside. Such modifications are not intended to alter the general principles or assumptions of the curriculum, but to tailor the look and feel of the service so that it adequately matches the needs of a particular population group. The second kind of more formal adaptation  a curriculum adaptation  involves changes by the original PREP curriculum developers, which results in a new product containing additional or revised content for specific target populations. For example, the developers created a new curriculum based on PREP called Within My Reach (WMR), specifically for use with TANF recipients, who are often not in a couple relationship. WMR is designed for use with individuals, rather than couples, and departs from the core assumption in the traditional PREP curriculum that there is a viable couple relationship that can be sustained. Desired outcomes for WMR participants include a better understanding of the difference between a healthy and a dangerous relationship, and skills for making positive relationship choices in the future.

Developing a Framework for Sustained Statewide Service Delivery. The OMI found that using volunteers as workshop leaders was challenging because of turnover after being trained, and because of a lack of infrastructure to support service delivery. They found that just training volunteers does not, by itself, translate into year-round sustained capacity. There may be gaps of service coverage in certain areas, for certain groups, or at certain times. To address this issue, the OMI put special efforts into building up, supporting, and sustaining the ongoing delivery of workshops in specific geographic areas and among certain groups, such as Latinos and Native Americans. PSI staff provide technical assistance to foster long-term delivery capabilities in several ways: by helping communities or organizations schedule and coordinate classes for year-round coverage; by identifying ongoing referral sources; by locating facilities for workshops; or by finding program supports such as child care or refreshments for workshop participants and their families.

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