Empowering Families: Implementation of an integrated HMRE, employment, and financial literacy program for low-income couples

Publication Date: June 8, 2020
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The Strengthening Relationship Education and Marriage Services (STREAMS) evaluation is a random assignment impact study and in-depth process study of five Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) grantees funded by ACF’s Office of Family Assistance (OFA). To maximize its contributions to the evidence base and to inform future program and evaluation design, STREAMS is examining the full range of populations served by HMRE programs, including adult individuals, adult couples, and youth in high schools. Each STREAMS site functions as a separate study within the larger evaluation, with each addressing a distinct research question.

This process study report presents findings on The Parenting Center’s experiences designing and implementing Empowering Families, a program developed to offer integrated HMRE and economic stability services to couples raising children together. Empowering Families offered couples four core program components: (1) a series of eight group workshop sessions using the Family Wellness curriculum along with economic stability content, (2) employment services and referrals to training, (3) financial coaching, and (4) case management.

The STREAMS impact evaluation is evaluating the effectiveness of Empowering Families. STREAMS is testing whether Empowering Families’ program of integrated HMRE and intensive economic stability services will lead to effects on participants’ employment and earnings, as well as other outcomes such as relationship quality and co-parenting.


The process study examines (1) the preparations for program implementation; (2) the procedures for hiring, training, and supervising program facilitators, case managers, and recruiters; (3) the extent to which Family Wellness was implemented with fidelity; and (4) participants’ engagement in and responsiveness to the program.

Key Findings and Highlights

Findings from this process study will provide context and help interpret impact evaluation findings. Key findings are:

  • Family Wellness workshops were well-attended and provided useful information for couples’ lives and a safe space for learning. Couples enrolled in Empowering Families had strong initial engagement and high participation rates in the workshops. Couples’ viewed the classroom as a safe place to ask questions and learn new skills because they trusted the facilitators and other couples in the class. Participation supports, such as transportation assistance, catered meals, and on-site child care, supported attendance at the workshops.
  • Couples engaged in employment services at intended levels, but did not did not take up other individual services as much as expected. Empowering Families provided employment counseling to almost 40 percent of couples, yet, fewer participants than planned engaged in case management and financial coaching. Most participants were working parents with limited time, which made taking up all of the services challenging. The program made changes during the first year to try to accommodate couples’ schedules such as increasing flexibility of staff hours.
  • Participation in all Empowering Families services was particularly high for Spanish-speaking couples. Spanish-speaking couples participated in all services at higher rates than did English-speaking couples. More dynamic Spanish-speaking facilitators and a strong sense of community among Spanish-speaking couples might have driven this success. The program also provided a mix of economic stability services that was better aligned to the services this population desired.
  • Implementing Empowering Families was complex, requiring three agencies to partner to integrate relationship skills and economic stability services. The Parenting Center partnered with experienced organizations that brought the needed expertise to deliver the employment and financial literacy content during workshops and engage with couples in one-on-one services. During early implementation, The Parenting Center focused heavily on coordination across agencies and consistent messages about the aims of the program. As a result, staff across agencies expressed commitment to the goals of Empowering Families and felt they were key players in helping couples get the most out of the program.


This report is based on analysis of data from the following four sources, collected to document Empowering Families’ 1.5 years of operation (September 2016 – April 2018).

  1. Semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and observations. We conducted a four-day site visit in April 2018 to collect qualitative data. We interviewed 25 staff from Empowering Families and its partners. We observed two Family Wellness curriculum sessions and held a focus group with four participants who attended the core workshops.
  2. Staff survey. All active program staff who facilitated Family Wellness or provided case management and one supervisor­ completed a web-based survey in April 2018. The survey asked about their work roles and experiences; feelings toward the program; and impressions of the quality of their supervision, training opportunities, and organizational climate.
  3. nFORM data. nFORM was the client management system that OFA provided to Empowering Families and other 2015 grantees. Empowering Families staff entered data on workshop and case management attendance in the system. After each Family Wellness workshop session, Empowering Families educators completed a short self-assessment about their ability to deliver that day’s planned content and engage participants. We analyzed nFORM data on 344 couples who enrolled from September 2016 to April 2018.
  4. STREAMS baseline survey. Participants completed a baseline survey that was administered during their intake appointment. We analyzed survey responses from 344 couples who enrolled and completed the survey from September 2016 to April 2018.


D’Angelo, Angela Valdovinos and Katie Bodenlos (2020). Empowering Families: Implementation of an Integrated HMRE, Employment, and Financial Literacy Program for Low-Income Couples, OPRE Report #2020-61, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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