Family Strengthening Programs: Where Do We Go From Here?
Family fragility in the US, especially among unmarried, impoverished parents is of increasing concern to policymakers, researchers, and practitioners involved with promoting family stability and positive outcomes for children. Federal initiatives such as the Welfare-to-Work Program and the Health Marriage Initiative have fallen far short of their goals of fostering economic mobility and intact families.
Between 2007 and 2011 the Strong Couples-Strong Children (SC – SC) project enrolled 726 low-income, expecting and new parents into a relationship strengthening program. Participants received a manualized group intervention focusing on communication and problem-solving skills supplemented with family-care wrap-around services. While beneficial treatment effects were found on six of ten critical outcomes variables, families continued to experience chronic economic hardships.
In focus groups conducted in the final year, participants conveyed multiple strengths, including a strong commitment to their families and bettering their lives through gainful employment. They also reported, however, that constant worry about finances had erosive effects on their self-esteem, (particularly males) and partner relationships. Barriers to employment varied by race and gender as did ideas on needed resources. Similarities and differences in strengths and challenges were subsequently supported by survey data. Survey data also refute negative family stereotypes. On average couples were together for 3.5 years; 79% were cohabitating and 98% planned to have father’s name on the birth certificate.
Survey data supplemented by focus group interviews suggest future directions. Efforts to support disadvantaged families must focus on not only enhancing relational assets but also human capital particularly by supporting education, employment aspirations and strong entrepreneurial desires. Given differences in perceptions of needed resources, future programs need to be both tailored and comprehensive.