By Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary, Administration for Children and Families
With Saint Valentine’s Day approaching, America’s airwaves and storefronts are filled with messages of romance and courtship. But our country observes another commemoration at the same time, focused on a uniquely powerful and enduring embodiment of love. Every February 7th through 14th National Marriage Week celebrates the commitment of men and women who choose to dedicate themselves to one another through marriage. Marriage ceremonies are one of our society’s most meaningful traditions, and the institution of marriage is the bedrock of America’s family life. ACF supports marriage and celebrates those who make these vows.
The benefits of marriage for individuals and society are well-established. Married adults tend to be healthier, live longer, and experience less stress and mental health problems. These advantages extend to their children and communities. Children in stable, committed, two-parent households have fewer emotional and behavioral problems and tend to do better in school. These children are also less likely to use drugs, have health problems, engage in delinquent behaviors or participate in risky sexual activities. Adults in healthy marriages tend to be more financially stable and perform better as employees, as well as be more engaged in their communities as volunteers and homeowners.
This isn’t to say that children who grow up in single parent families cannot succeed—many, many do. And many single parents do heroic work to support their families in tough circumstances. But in general, two sets of hands to help, hold, and care are better than one, and children are better positioned for success in such environments.
This is why the Administration for Children and Families, through our Office of Family Assistance, actively supports healthy marriage formation through the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood programs. Authorized by Congress since 2005, $75 million of the $150 million appropriation per year is set aside for competitive grants to promote marriage and provide related family strengthening services. Currently, 45 healthy marriage promotion grantees – mostly community-based organizations across the country – are providing classes and other services that combine healthy marriage and relationship education, pre-marital education, marriage enhancement, and divorce reduction, together with job and career advancement opportunities and other services to improve economic opportunity for families.
These programs, through evidence-based and -informed curricula, cultivate important skills for participants, such as healthy communication, conflict management, parenting and financial literacy. Healthy marriage programs are a key part of our work to foster stable and economically secure households for the well-being and long-term success of children and families.
These programs hold the promise of cultivating healthy and committed relationships in vulnerable communities. The potential effects of such programs was demonstrated by two healthy marriage programs studied in the recent Parents and Children Together evaluation. The study found that couples randomly selected to receive healthy marriage services were more committed, had increased levels of supportiveness and affection, had improved co-parenting relationships and were more likely to be married after one year, compared to those who weren’t selected to receive these services. These findings bolster the case for investment in healthy marriage programs as a means of promoting stability in the relationships of low-income families.
Even after National Marriage Week has come and gone, the Administration for Children and Families is committed to elevating the important work of supporting couples in their journey to mutual devotion, stability, and contentment. For practitioners interested in engaging in efforts to strengthen marriages and support healthy relationships, there are several resources available. These include the National Center for Healthy Marriage and Families and the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, which provide information, trainings, webinars and other resources.
Valentine’s Day roses will fade, but the value of marriage endures. It is our hope that our office’s efforts will play out for generations to come, as children and families benefit from strengthened relationships, healthier marriages and more stable homes.