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- Published: 2021
Recognizing the importance of stable, supportive families for the healthy development of children, the federal government has supported healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) programs for more than two decades. Many questions remain about how best to serve participants in these programs. The Office of Family Assistance (OFA) and the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), both within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), are committed to building the evidence base to strengthen both HMRE and responsible fatherhood programming. To systematically identify current gaps in the knowledge base for these programs, ACF undertook the Fatherhood, Relationships, and Marriage — Illuminating the Next Generation of Research (FRAMING Research) project.
On September 29, 2020, ACF convened a second HMRE technical work group for the FRAMING Research project. The group included experts on healthy relationship development, HMRE program delivery, and HMRE research. This brief describes the discussion at the meeting, which focused on topics related to: (1) HMRE programs for youth and (2) HMRE programs for individual adults. These topics emerged from the project team’s review of the relevant literature and discussions with ACF about agency priorities. The day concluded with technical work group members participating in a brainstorming session on research priorities related to HMRE programming for youth and individual adults.
Key Findings and Highlights
- HMRE programs for youth. HMRE programs for youth are a growing focus of federal policy and research. The first part of the discussion focused on addressing the challenges of implementing HMRE programs for youth and building the evidence base for the effectiveness of these programs. TWG members’ key points included:
- High quality facilitation may matter as much as program content when it comes to engaging youth.
- To get youth engaged in programming, program content must be relevant to their lives.
- Program developers and practitioners should tailor program goals to the needs of youth they intend to serve. These needs may vary based on youths’ age, parenting status, or other risk factors.
- HMRE programs for youth should address contextual factors that matter for future romantic relationships, including the presence of adult role models and cultural norms related to education, gender, ethnicity, and race.
- Program practitioners and researchers should identify ways for youth to contribute to program implementation and study design.
- HMRE programs for individual adults. Many HMRE programs for adults work with individuals instead of couples. The second part of the discussion focused on addressing the challenges of implementing HMRE programs for individual adults and expanding the knowledge base for these programs. TWG members noted the following during this part of the discussion:
- When determining who they will serve, HMRE programs for individual adults need to strike a balance between groups that are similar enough to connect with each other but different enough to learn from each other’s life experiences.
- To boost enrollment and participation, HMRE programs need to have a clear understanding of why people seek out their services. Programs can use this information to develop an effective “hook” to keep people engaged.
- The field needs more research on the factors that promote engagement and retention in HMRE programs for individual adults.
- Evaluating the impact of HMRE programs for individual adults can be challenging because intended outcomes may differ depending on participants’ relationship circumstances.
- Future HMRE research priorities. TWG members identified five top priorities for future work, which included:
- Include participant perspectives in the program development and research process.
- Study the importance of culturally responsive programming.
- Increase the diversity of HMRE researchers.
- Identify realistic, short-term outcomes for youth HMRE programs.
- Use rigorous studies to determine how service delivery influences program retention and impacts.
Alamillo, J. and L. Ouellette. “Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Programming for Youth and Individual Adults: Highlights from the Second FRAMING Research Healthy Marriage Technical Work Group.” OPRE Report 2021-166. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021.