Study: Building Strong Families Evaluation Suggests Stronger Approach is Needed

Friday, May 21, 2010
Contact: Kenneth J. Wolfe
(202) 401-9215

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today released findings from a study assessing the effectiveness of programs designed to help low-income unmarried parents build and sustain healthy relationships in order to provide their children with stable family lives and the support and involvement of both parents. 

In the Building Strong Families initiative, programs provided relationship and marriage education, case management, and referrals to other services.  Seven of the eight programs evaluated in the initiative failed to yield better outcomes for participants than for a control group that did not have access to the program.  The study measured the living arrangements, relationship status, relationship quality, extent of father involvement with his child, domestic violence and economic well-being of approximately five thousand couples who were randomly assigned to either a control group or a group that had access to a Building Strong Families program.

One program did show positive benefits in relationship quality and father involvement for participants compared to a control group.  Furthermore, some benefits appeared among subgroups, including African American couples, couples with better relationship quality at the baseline and couples with low education levels.  Participants in one other program experienced an increase in violence between partners, as well as more break-ups and a decrease in support and affection from their partners. The program subsequently modified several procedures to prevent domestic violence and increase safety.

This report's findings serve to reinforce the need for a more comprehensive approach like the one proposed in the President’s pending Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund.

“These findings are very timely as Congress considers the more comprehensive Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund, proposed in the President’s 2011 budget,” said Carmen R. Nazario, HHS’ assistant secretary for children and families.  “The results of this study show that it is possible to positively influence and strengthen families with support programs, but also suggest that the current approach isn’t adequate.  "Couples often face several compounding challenges.  A broader effort will provide the comprehensive support that parents and couples need to succeed in their relationships as well as in their roles as workers, providers, and engaged parents. Such efforts should be tailored to individual circumstances and extend to include effective mental health resources and services to address domestic violence. That is the approach reflected in the President’s proposed Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund.”

The Fund, proposed in the President’s 2011 budget, would focus on comprehensive responsible fatherhood programs, including those with relationship and marriage components.  The current Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood program, through which the Building Strong Families programs were funded, would be redirected to this more comprehensive effort. 

“Active and engaged parents are critically important to the healthy development of children” said Assistant Secretary Nazario. “Children raised with involved, supportive fathers are more likely to succeed in school and are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or to become parents in their teen years.  The President is committed to helping children reach their full potential by supporting parents in their critical role, working to reduce domestic violence, and promoting healthy relationships and safe and secure households.  Comprehensive responsible fatherhood programs, many with healthy marriage components, will be a major focus of the new Innovation Fund proposed by the President.

For the report on Building Strong Families, mothers and fathers were interviewed about 15 months after they volunteered for the program.  The status of these couples and the well-being of their children will be measured again 36 months after they signed up for the program.  The longer-term results are expected in 2012.

The full report “Strengthening Unmarried Parents’ Relationships: The Early Impacts of Building Strong Families,” along with a report on implementation of the programs, is available at:


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