Local Initiatives Strengthen Marriages to Benefit Couples and Children

"Marriage is high on the policy agenda as Congress is soon likely to pass legislation providing $750 million over five years to promote healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood," said Ron Haskins, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution who moderated a January 27 Brookings briefing on Capitol Hill featuring several marriage education experts, practitioners, and couples participating in programs.

"The key is to build the bridge between the healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood movements," said Joe Jones, president of the Center for Fathers, Families, and Workforce Development in Baltimore. "This has huge implications for our nation's children." The forum — which featured Jones' Center and the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative — builds on research published in the Fall 2005 issue of The Future of Children, "Marriage and Child Wellbeing," published by Brookings and Princeton University.

"Our job is to knock down the stress level so that couples can be sufficient as a unit," said Stephen Lawrence, family coordinator of Baltimore's Building Strong Families Program. His comments were echoed by Petra Hutchison, family coordinator of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, who said that their goal is to "give couples the knowledge about healthy relationships and communications skills."

"Our modular family education program helps couples have the skills to be able to succeed for themselves and their children," said Julie Gottman, founder and clinical director of Loving Couples Loving Children and the Gottman Institute. The Baltimore and Oklahoma programs are part of a demonstration program supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Children and Families and being evaluated by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. These and other marriage-education initiatives typically involve six to eight couples and two facilitators to discuss such issues as how to prevent conflict, build intimacy and friendship, heal old wounds, manage stress, and build competent parenting practices.

Greg Mitchell and Tabitha Cates, a young Oklahoma couple, said that the program helped them "learn to settle our differences." Nakia Staton and Terry Brown, a Baltimore couple, said that they learned how to "calm down and walk away" from fights and overcome fears of marriage.

Research presented in The Future of Children shows that the rise of female-headed families—especially those created through non-marital births—is a major cause of child poverty. If more children lived with their loving, married parents, poverty would decline and child well-being would be enhanced. A number of states and localities have launched such initiatives, and the Bush Administration and many Members of Congress are supporting legislation that would expand these efforts.