Can Relationship Skills Education Help Unmarried Parents and Their Children?
Media Advisory: May 24, 2010
Contacts: Amy Berridge, (609) 945-3378
Issue: Studies have consistently shown that children fare best when raised by both their biological parents—particularly when their parents have a positive and healthy relationship. Helping unmarried couples—particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds—improve their relationship and increase the likelihood that they remain together, then, could ultimately benefit their children.
The Building Strong Families (BSF) project, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, supported development, implementation, and testing of eight voluntary programs that offer relationship skills education and other support services to unwed couples who are expecting a baby or have just had one. To be eligible, couples must be romantically involved, both partners must be 18 or older, and they must pass a domestic violence screen. BSF offers couples group sessions on relationship skills covering topics like communication, conflict management, and building intimacy and trust. The program also provides individual support from a family support worker, and referrals to other services to address life problems couples are facing.
Study: Mathematica Policy Research conducted an experimental evaluation, in eight locations, of BSF programs that used one of three different curricula. The evaluation assessed the program’s impact on the stability and quality of couples’ relationships. More than 5,000 interested couples were randomly assigned to either a BSF group that could participate in the program or a control group that could not. Mathematica then compared outcomes for these two groups. This report provides short-term results on BSF’s impacts on couples about 15 months after they applied for the program, focusing on the key outcomes BSF was designed to affect—the stability and quality of the couples’ relationships. A future report to be released in 2012 will assess the longer term effects, including impacts on child well-being.
Quote: “Our results suggest that it’s difficult to make this approach work. And it may not be for all unmarried parents, since we found negative effects in one of the eight programs,” said Robert G. Wood, senior researcher at Mathematica and lead author of the study. “However, the mixed results we’ve seen, in particular the success of the Oklahoma program and the positive effects for African American couples, also suggest this approach can work in some circumstances.”
Reports: "Strengthening Unmarried Parents’ Relationships: The Early Impacts of Building Strong Families." Robert G. Wood, Sheena McConnell, Quinn Moore, Andrew Clarkwest, and JoAnn Hsueh, May 2010. Executive Summary.