Building Strong Families (BSF) is a large-scale demonstration of marriage and relationship education programs for low-income, romantically involved, unmarried couples who are expecting or recently had a child together. It is also a rigorous evaluation of the programs’ effectiveness. The entire project is sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. BSF was motivated by findings from the 20-city Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study which showed that at the time of their child’s birth, many unmarried couples have high hopes for marriage, but few couples succeed in that goal (Carlson, McLanahan, and England 2004). BSF aims to learn whether well-designed interventions can help interested unmarried parents strengthen their relationships and, if they choose to wed, achieve their aspirations for a healthy marriage.
The BSF evaluation relies on a rigorous longitudinal research design, with random assignment of eligible couples to either a program or control group. Data are collected at three points: baseline, 15 months after enrollment, and when each BSF child is three years old. The evaluation will examine the impact of BSF on the quality of couple relationships, the decision to marry, family outcomes, and children’s well-being. The first impact findings are expected to be available in 2009, but much has already been learned about the implementation of the intervention program.
This executive summary highlights the key findings from an implementation analysis of BSF’s seven program sites. The implementation analysis focuses on the programs’ design, development, and operations during the first six to 14 months of the evaluation. It also documents recruitment and enrollment practices, describes the characteristics of enrolled couples, provides data on program participation, and summarizes the experiences of participant couples in the program group. Information for the report draws on qualitative data from comprehensive site visits to each BSF location in the fall-winter of 2006, information from ongoing monitoring efforts, and structured data recorded in each program’s management information system. Although the evaluation is still going on and these findings are based on only one stage in the evolution of the BSF programs, they reveal the challenges and successes involved in operating programs for low-income unmarried couples, and also provide context for understanding later analyses of BSF impacts on couples and their children.