Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Programs for Youth: An In-depth Study of Federally Funded Programs

Publication Date: October 18, 2017
Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Programs for Youth: An In-depth Study of Federally Funded Programs

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  • Published: 2017


Research Questions

  1. Describe the organizations implementing federally funded HMRE programs for youth and the youth served by these programs by collecting and analyzing multiple sources of quantitative and qualitative data.
  2. Assess whether HMRE programming for youth aligns with best practices for serving youth.
  3. Identify promising approaches used by grantees to better serve youth in HMRE programs.

Research finds that romantic relationships during adolescence are developmentally appropriate, and healthy relationships can be a positive developmental influence. Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) programs serving youth can improve young people’s attitudes, knowledge, and expectations of romantic relationships by helping them develop key skills to form healthy relationships (and avoid unhealthy ones). This may contribute to their overall development and prepare them to create and sustain healthy relationships, including marriage, later in life.

This report summarizes findings from a research study on youth-serving HMRE programs funded by the Office of Family Assistance. Specifically, this report aims to address gaps in knowledge about the extent to which these programs are tailored to the specific developmental and cultural needs of this population.


This report aims to inform ACF and the broader HMRE research and practice fields about the characteristics and implementation practices of youth-serving HMRE programs. By documenting the characteristics of HMRE grantees, partners, and participants, and by assessing how HMRE grantees align with practices identified through research and evaluation to be optimal for serving youth most effectively (i.e., best practices), this report:

  • provides information on the strengths and gaps in existing HMRE services for youth,
  • provides recommendations for future training and technical assistance (TA) needs, and
  • informs the larger field about promising approaches for serving youth, which were identified through a critical analysis of the research-informed best practices and through interviews with grantee staff.

Key Findings and Highlights

Overall, this report’s findings demonstrate that federally funded HMRE grantees are reaching and serving youth using a range of research-informed best practices.

Key findings:

  • Most HMRE grantees target and reach diverse and often disadvantaged youth populations.
  • HMRE grantees serve youth in a variety of settings, and most grantees implemented programming in more than one setting.
  • School- and non-school-based HMRE programming each have unique advantages and challenges in reaching and serving youth.
  • HMRE grantees’ programming objectives align with targeted outcomes of HMRE curricula.
  • HMRE grantees reached more youth ages 14 to 17 than older youth (ages 18 to 24).
  • About half of grantees implemented different programming activities for their youth versus adult populations, including implementing curricula that were age-appropriate.
  • HMRE grantees’ implementation practices aligned with research-informed best practices related to curriculum, staff attributes and skills, and organizational practices.


The study team first identified a set of research-informed best practices criteria for serving youth. The team then used information from quantitative and qualitative data sources to compare and assess the alignment of HMRE grantees’ reported and observed practices against these research-informed best practices criteria. Finally, the team identified promising approaches for serving youth through a critical analysis of the research-informed best practices and interviews with grantee staff.


Based on these findings, the study team provides a number of research-informed recommendations for supporting the design and implementation of HMRE programs for youth:

  • Form community partnerships that allow programs to implement in multiple settings, specifically in school-based and community-based settings.
  • Provide additional information and training related to the unique needs of youth, select curricula that are age- and developmentally-appropriate, and follow best practices for serving youth, particularly for programs serving a mix of youth and adults.
  • Provide programming that promotes positive attitudes about gender and sexuality and improved career and college readiness.
  • Support program efforts to reach and serve older youth (ages 18 to 24).
  • Provide additional training in specific program implementation areas, including:
    • Integrating positive youth development approaches
    • Conducting observations on an ongoing basis to monitor program/curriculum fidelity and quality.


Administration for Children and Families
Office of Family Assistance
Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation
Healthy marriage and relationship education
HMRE programs with OFA funding
School-based programming:
Grantees that implement at least some programming in schools, during the school day
Non-school-based programming:
Grantee work that is not implemented in schools, during the school day
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