State Policies to Promote Marriage. Preliminary Report.. Marriage Support and Promotion

03/01/2002

In addition to marriage preparation initiatives, states have begun to take an interest in policies to strengthen marriages after couples marry (e.g., efforts to promote communication and education may help prevent families from dissolving). Other policies encourage parents with children in common to marry. We focused on home visitation programs, mentoring and counseling, and fatherhood programs that specifically address marriage promotion as part of their program goals. Thirteen states had an activity in one or more of these areas. (Table 9 in the detailed matrices provides additional information on state policies.)

Home visitation programs. Home visiting involves sending nurses or other professionals into the homes of targeted families to offer a wide range of services. Families might be targeted for a range of reasons, including contact with the child welfare system, a birth to a teenager, or an unstable marriage. Services offered also vary widely, and can include case management, parenting instruction, family planning education, and links to community services.

Home visiting programs that explicitly mention marriage appear to be rare. While 21 states reported using TANF funds for home visiting programs in FY 2001, marriage promotion did not appear to be a primary goal of any of them.49 Instead, they focused on other goals of TANF — promoting self-sufficiency and delaying subsequent births. Beyond these efforts, four states either target families with unstable marriages for home visiting programs or incorporate relationship and other skills into their programs. Utah’s Commission on Marriage, for example, will collaborate with home visiting programs to get marriage enrichment materials into the homes of fragile families. Oklahoma’s statewide home visiting program, Children First, is beginning to work with the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative to include training for nurse home visitors to focus on relationships between the parents and, when appropriate, refer them to relationship workshops. Hawaii has a statewide home visiting program that includes families with unstable marriages as one of its target groups. It is unclear whether home visitors specifically focus on marriage skills, however. North Carolina’s program is geared towards new parents and includes relationship-building skills.

Marriage mentoring, education, and counseling. Six states have mentoring or counseling programs that aim to strengthen relationships.50 Some focus on specific populations. Alabama’s Family Coaches Program, for instance, targets TANF recipients and other low-income families. Michigan’s Family Independence Agency is working in specific counties to provide marital counseling, communications skills, and anger management to those eligible under TANF guidelines. Other state efforts target broader populations. Arizona recently awarded contracts to 11 organizations to offer marriage and communications skills programs statewide. Oklahoma established a marriage resource center to provide information on marriage and mentor couples and also offer relationship skills workshops for married and unmarried couples. Oregon is piloting a program on communications skills and conflict management. And the Utah Commission on Marriage is using TANF funds to offer vouchers for counseling and mediation and to develop a website that includes marriage enrichment information and links to service-related sites.

Fatherhood programs. Some states are seeking to reunify families through statewide fatherhood programs. In a general sense, these programs’ focus on relationship and parenting skills aims to increase fathers’ attachment to their families. Some statewide programs, however, have a specific marriage component. We found five examples of statewide programs that include a marriage piece. The Florida Commission on Fatherhood, for example, operates programs in 35 counties. The Commission’s policy is that strong marriages promote fatherhood and that programs should promote marriage preservation. Mississippi’s Responsible Fatherhood Initiative is funded with TANF dollars and addresses all goals of TANF in the training programs, including marriage. The Pennsylvania Fatherhood Initiative approaches the subject of marriage in its programs as the best (but not only) environment in which to raise children. Staff teach the value of marriage in the fatherhood centers and school-based programs. The programs have resource centers that have information on building strong marriages. Two states also train program providers on how to address marriage. The Texas Fatherhood Initiative will soon be training community-based organizations on how to promote marriage within the context of a fatherhood program. Similarly, Virginia’s fatherhood campaign includes workshops for providers on ways to promote sound marriages.