Steven Wagner, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families
It is fitting that Valentine’s Day falls within National Marriage Week, February 7-14, because this week-long celebration is a great time to reflect on the importance of marriage in our society. Although having a healthy marriage is a goal that many people aspire to, divorce and non-marital birth rates remain relatively high. National Marriage Week, a collaborative campaign that seeks to raise awareness about the many benefits of marriage, is just one strategy for addressing these concerns.
This week, many people will recognize and honor the significance of marriage in their individual lives, but it’s also important to acknowledge its many benefits to society. The economic, health, and emotional benefits of marriage also have a positive effect on children’s well-being. Numerous studies have shown that children raised by married parents have more successful outcomes. They often do better at school, are more likely to graduate college and earn more, and often have stable marriages as adults. In his article, “Why Marriage Matters for Child Wellbeing,” David Ribar argues that “the advantages of marriage for children’s well-being are likely to be hard to replicate through policy interventions other than those that bolster marriage itself.”
That is the precise goal of the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) Initiative, a $150 million discretionary grant program authorized by Congress since 2005. This initiative, along with other grant programs that promote family economic security and stability, is administered by ACF’s Office of Family Assistance (OFA). The HMRF grant program engages community-based organizations to provide healthy marriage and relationship education, as well as responsible fatherhood and reentry services for fathers returning from incarceration.
Half of the federal HMRF funding is designated specifically for healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) activities. The other half funds Responsible Fatherhood programs, which also includes HMRE services. HMRE focuses on building skills such as communication, conflict management, parenting, and financial literacy—skills that are the foundation for success in both personal and employment relationships. Currently, 45 grantee organizations in 19 states and one territory (Guam) are funded to provide HMRE over a five-year period, and another 43 grantees provide HMRE services in their Responsible Fatherhood programs.
Together these programs contribute to healthier communities throughout the United States by meeting the varied needs of populations including, among others, financially vulnerable parents, military families, youth, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families recipients, immigrants, families experiencing homelessness, and young people who are in foster care. OFA HMRE grantees provide services that combine marriage and relationship education with efforts to address the economic stability needs of their participants.
HMRE provides instruction and strategies for individuals and couples who want healthier relationships and a better future for their families. More importantly, participants gain skills to put in practice at home through strengthened relationships. And finally, through the HMRF grant program, thousands of couples are finding help to develop the happy, healthy marriage they desire and their children deserve.
At the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), supporting healthy marriage is one of many activities we undertake to fulfill our mission of promoting the economic and social well-being of families and communities. ACF is proud to play a role in encouraging and strengthening healthy marriages, this and every week.