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January/February 2017Vol. 17, No. 10Evaluating the Successes, Challenges of Healthy Marriage Programs

Since 2005, the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has administered grants to provide healthy marriage (HM) and responsible fatherhood services. These grant programs work to support couples and fathers in their efforts to improve adult and parent-child relationships and build stronger families.

In an effort to learn about the challenges and successes of service implementation, the needs and experiences of participants, and the effectiveness of the services that are provided, ACF awarded a contract in 2011 to Mathematica Policy Research to conduct the Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation. In October 2016, the publication Parents and Children Together: Design and Implementation of Two Healthy Marriage Programs reported on two HM grantees that participated in PACT—the Healthy Opportunities for Marriage Enrichment (HOME) program from the El Paso Center for Children in El Paso, TX, and the Supporting Healthy Relationships program from University Behavioral Associates in Bronx, NY.

In accordance with HM legislation, HM grantees are required to offer at least one of eight "allowable activities," such as premarital education or marriage and relationship skills education, which support and strengthen the relationships of participating couples. They also are encouraged to offer services related to job and career advancement and financial management. The report describes the program design and implementation of the HOME and the Supporting Healthy Relationships programs, including a focus on the job and career advancement services offered by the two grantees and present data on enrollment, initial participation, retention, and the amount of services couples received throughout the PACT enrollment period.

Other topics covered in the report include descriptions of PACT's evaluation framework, data sources, and collection methods; program workshops and other activities; strategies to recruit couples and encourage participation; and participant characteristics, attendance, and program experiences. In addition, the backgrounds, experience, training, and supervision of program staff were examined.

Some key findings of the study include:

  • Relationship education workshops, which included both married and unmarried couples, were well attended. Strong participation may have resulted from programmatic efforts to promote attendance and restricting eligibility to only couples who reported being in a committed relationship.
  • Both programs offered low-intensity services designed to improve participants' economic well-being, including job and career advancement workshops. Participation in the job and career advancement services was low, which may have reflected couples' limited needs or preferences. 
  • The programs reported that effective recruitment required face-to-face outreach.

Two appendices provide detailed profiles of the programs.

Parents and Children Together: Design and Implementation of Two Healthy Marriage Programs, by Heather Zaveri and Scott Baumgartner, is available at