Performance Improvement 2007. How Can States Implement Healthy-Marriage Programs for Unmarried Couples with Children?



This study is the first installment of the Building Strong Families (BSF) Demonstration and Evaluation. BSF is a multi-year, multi-site test of voluntary, marriage and relationship education programs for low-income unmarried persons over 18 who are expecting, or have just had, a child and who are not involved in domestic violence. The study will provide important new information about whether marriage and relationship education and links to other needed support services can improve relationship/marital quality, relationship/marital stability and child well-being for economically disadvantaged couples. The demonstrations are being conducted in sites in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Texas. Using a random assignment evaluation design, the study will track and assess both the short (15 months) and longer-term (36 months) effectiveness of the BSF programs. Subsequent study components will examine the experiences of agencies involved in setting up and running the programs, as well as the experiences and opinions of couples. During the initial pilot phase, sites successfully enrolled couples both during pregnancy and after delivery of their child.

This initial study phase found that certain characteristics of host agencies and staff may be particularly helpful. These characteristics include: the strength of agency commitment to the importance of healthy marriage; program staff's organizational experience in delivering services in a group format; use of both male and female staff and teams; and employing staff with cultural backgrounds similar to their participants. For pilot sites, the maternal health care system was a major and efficient recruitment source for the target population of pregnant and new parents. The early data indicate the challenge of maintaining participation by couples who are pregnant or have a new baby in a program that requires ongoing weekly attendance over several months. An early lesson was that although there were significant drop-offs in attendance, the overall pattern was one of steady but intermittent participation. Most often, couples who began attending returned to group sessions after missing some sessions rather than dropping out entirely. Overall, couples responded positively to the programs, valued the group instruction format and learning from other couples' experiences, and demonstrated a basic understanding of what they had been taught.

Report Title: Implementing Healthy Marriage Programs for Unmarried Couples with Children: Early Lessons from the Building Strong Families Project.
Agency Sponsor: ACF, Administration on Children and Families
Federal Contact: Campbell, Nancye, 202-401-5760
Performer: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.; Princeton, NJ
PIC ID: 8282

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"PerformanceImprovement2007.pdf" (pdf, 717.63Kb)

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