ACF Releases Study on Healthy Marriage Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, March 16, 2012
Contact: Kenneth J. Wolfe
(202) 401-9215

 Small positive effects found, longer term follow-up planned

HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) released findings from the Supporting Healthy Marriage (SHM) study assessing the effectiveness of programs designed to strengthen marriages among low-income married couples with children. The study found that across the eight programs evaluated, the SHM program produced a consistent pattern of positive effects on multiple aspects of couples’ relationships, including higher levels of marital happiness; fewer negative behaviors and emotions in their interactions with each other; and less psychological and physical abuse from their spouses. Participation in the programs did not significantly affect whether couples remained married at the 12-month follow-up point, but follow-up research is necessary to determine what impact the programs may have in the longer-term on the likelihood of being married, the quality of relationships, or the well-being of children.

“These programs are designed to support stable, nurturing marriages for the well-being of children and parents,” said George H. Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for children and families. “We will continue to invest in evaluations to learn about effective approaches to help strengthen families and increase stability.”

The ACF Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation contracted with the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, a non-profit, non-partisan education and social policy research organization, to develop the SHM program model based on research evidence, identify eight host agencies with the capacity to implement the model, and evaluate the results. The study measured relationship status and quality, psychological well-being and physical safety as well as co-parenting quality among couples about 12 months after they enrolled in the study. The study compared these outcomes among couples in the program group with those of a control group, who were not provided SHM services, but could receive other services available in the community. The study used a rigorous random-assignment design.

The SHM program model included three complementary components:

  • a series of marriage and relationship education workshops;
  • supplemental educational and social activities to reinforce lessons from the workshops; and
  • family support workers assigned to support couples’ participation and provide links to other services in the community.

The study found that the SHM program produced a consistent pattern of small, positive effects on multiple aspects of couples’ relationships.  Relative to the control group, the program group couples showed:

  • higher levels of marital happiness;
  • lower levels of marital distress;
  • greater warmth and support;
  • more positive communication;
  • fewer negative behaviors and emotions in their interactions with each other;
  • less psychological and physical abuse from their spouses; and 
  • lower levels of psychological distress.

The SHM program did not significantly affect whether couples remained married at the 12-month follow-up point.

While these short-term results provide some encouraging evidence about the potential for this kind of program, their importance will ultimately depend on whether the program yields positive impacts over time. The effects of SHM on longer-term outcomes — including effects on divorce and separation, parenting, father engagement, and child well-being two and a half years after couples enrolled in the study — will be explored in a subsequent report. The longer-term results are expected in 2013.

To review the full Supporting Healthy Marriage report visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/strengthen/support_hlthymarr/report...

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Note: All ACF news releases, fact sheets and other materials are available at: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/news.