Performance Improvement 2010. Address Complex Marriage and Family Ties


This ASPE-funded study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center and Child Trends used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 cohort, to examine how parent marital quality and parent-adolescent relationships in married couple families influence a range of adolescent and youth well-being outcomes.  The study findings support the hypothesis that family relationships matter for adolescents and young adults.  Specifically, parent-marital quality combined with parent-adolescent relationship quality are related to physical health, mental health, substance use, sexual activity, and religious activity outcomes during middle adolescence and, to a lesser extent, early adulthood.  This research offers preliminary evidence that parental marital quality and positive parent-adolescent relationships with both mothers and fathers are important to well-being outcomes later in adolescence and extending in some cases even into early adulthood.  (9328)

Further examination of this data reveals a number of conclusions.  The quality of the parent's marriage and the parent-youth relationship influenced the odds of having sex by age 16 and 18 and the odds of having unprotected sex during the mid teens.  Among adolescents with two married parents in early adolescence, the quality of the marital relationship and the quality of the adolescent/parent relationship does not significantly influence whether or not the adolescent graduated from high school or received a GED by the time he or she was 20 years old.  However, among adolescents with a high school diploma or GED who reported that their parents demonstrated high marital quality and that they had a good relationship with both parents, there is a 65% increase in the likelihood that they will have enrolled in post-secondary education compared to high school graduated youth who reported parents with low marital quality and a poor relationship with both parents.  Similarly, adolescents with a high school diploma or GED who reported that their parents had low marital quality, but with whom they had a good relationship with at least one parent, are 51% more likely to enroll in post-secondary education than adolescents who reported that their parents had low marital quality and that their own relationship with both parents was poor.  A good relationship with at least one parent seems to be a protective factor that contributes positively to enrollment in post-secondary education by age 20 years.  The majority of adolescents in married couple families perceive their parents' marital quality to be high, and only a small proportion report low parent marital quality.  Furthermore, a majority of adolescents also report sustained high quality relationships with both parents throughout early adolescence.  The smallest proportion of adolescents fell into the most negative group, which was characterized by sustained low quality relationships with both parents over time.  These results are striking given that much of the extant research about teen/parent behaviors portrays the teen years at home as troubled and problematic. (9329.1, 9329.2, 9329.3, 9329.4)

Additional research funded by ASPE identified lessons learned from the national implementation and impact evaluation of  Marriage and Family Strengthening Grants for Incarcerated and Reentering Fathers and their Partners (MFS-IP), conducted by RTI, International.  Incarceration takes a huge toll on families and children, and supportive families and positive marital/partner relationships are important for promoting positive outcomes during and after incarceration.  Grantees support reentering families and communities, provide parenting skills, and provide education and employment services. 

In the MFS-IP program, both public and private agencies have been funded.  The public agencies represent both correctional and human services agencies, and the private agencies include both community and faith-based organizations.  Programs can be classified into three primary models: (1) curriculum-based programs focused on family strengthening, (2) curriculum-based programs with some case management or family counseling, and (3) case management-based programs with a holistic focus.  All three models have advantages and were chosen by grantees to reflect the needs of their target populations, taking into consideration services available and the climate within which the programs are implemented. 

The implementation component of the MFS-IP program evaluation has found that successfully returning to families and communities is complicated.  These fathers often also have complex family structures, employment problems, mental health issues, and substance use histories.  Providing services to incarcerated men is challenging and demanding because providers have to balance facility safety and security priorities while meeting the human service needs of this population.  Factors that are important include: staff buy-in and support, program fit with prison life, meaningful and tangible participation incentives, and extensive efforts to motivate and retain incarcerated and reentering men in the programs.  Partners face a numbers of challenges as they try to maintain partner and family relationships or consider whether these relationships are worth maintaining.  MFS-IP grantees offered a range of services to address the needs of partners in the community.  Grantees worked to gain partners' interest, emphasized potential benefits for the couples' children, and offered participation incentives.  Grantees overcame logistical challenges by adjusting the timing of their activities to accommodate partner work schedules; condensing programming into fewer, more intensive sessions; offering child care or concurrent activities for children; and providing transportation support and lodging as needed. (9319, 9319.3, 9319.4, 9319.5)

In another ASPE funded implementation evaluation, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.  examined the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI), which aims to promote and strengthen marriage, primarily by providing relationship skills education using existing service delivery infrastructure to provide services.  The program has trained a growing cadre of volunteer relationship skills instructors.  The program focuses on serving low income families but is open to all.  OMI trained community volunteers from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. Volunteers made a substantial contribution to overall productivity across the state. Productivity and recruitment challenges require continual attention and maintaining a volunteer workforce requires sustained effort.  The faith community is a source of many volunteers.  Full implementation within an institutional sector is most likely when the initiative's mission fits well with the agency's, when the agency is strongly motivated to succeed and closely monitors its own progress, when the curriculum corresponds to the needs and interest of agency clients, and when there is a steady source of participants.  These advantages, however, are not sufficient if other issues are not addressed, such as buy-in by frontline staff or resistance to a focus on marriage.  (8533.5, 8533.6) A marriage and relationship skills curriculum ("PREP"), used in the OMI program, adopted by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, yielded important lessons about providing such education in prisons. (8533.7)

There has been little research on whether relationship status impacts social outcomes, including desistance from crime and labor market participation, among ex-prisoners.  One ASPE study, conducted by the Urban Institute, examined the short-term impact of marital and intimate partner status on recidivism, substance use and employment.  Former prisoners who were married or living as married were half as likely to report a new crime and/or drug use as those in casual, unmarried relationships.  Marriage's effect on drug use was strongest for older ex-offenders suggesting that committed relationships are more beneficial for those already in the process of aging out of crime.  Moreover, higher quality partnerships were associated with lower odds of drug use.  Former prisoners in casual, non-married relationships experienced outcomes similar to those with no intimate partner.  Overall, the findings suggest that in-prison programs that strengthen the quality of partner relationships may reduce return to prison and substance use. (9326)

As part of a series of studies funded by ACF and ASPE, the Lewin Group provided the first national-level picture of how the vital statistics systems at the state and local levels collect marriage and divorce information.  (9097) A second study examined electronic system upgrades for the collection and storage of marriage and divorce data in selected states.  The extent and use of technology to support the vital statistics system varies considerably by state.  Some states have developed sophisticated web-based systems for collecting and storing information, while others still rely on paper-based records that are subsequently entered into databases. (9098)  In a third related study, the Urban Institute examined the feasibility and potential benefits of using survey data sets to provide reliable, timely information on marriage and divorce.  It assessed the ability of a variety of data sets to produce marriage and divorce statistics at the national, state, and local levels.  Data sets having the greatest potential for measuring marriage and divorce statistics were the American Community Survey, the National Survey of Family Growth, and the Survey of Income and Program Participation.  (9096)

Additional information regarding marriage and divorce will be made available through questions added to the American Community Survey (ACS).  Since its inception, the survey has included a question on marital status (never married, divorced, separated, widowed, or married).  New questions will fill a large data gap and allow for the calculation of marriage and divorce rates and a more complete study of family formation trends.  These rates and trends can be analyzed at the person, family, household and community level. (9095

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