APA's take on the Healthy Marriage Initiative - 9/04
Smart Marriages ®
Tue Sep 7 14:05:47 EDT 2004
subject: APA's take on the Healthy Marriage Initiative - 9/04
- THE QUESTION OF MARRIAGE AND COMMUNITY WELL-BEING
Interesting to see the APA's approach to the govt's marriage-strengthening
initiative. They handle it by dividing the discussion into two articles.
The first, "The Question of Marriage and Community Well-Being", looks at the
role played by their own - by highly respected psychologists working on
program design and evaluation - Horn, Markman, Stanley, Gottman, Cowan,
Doherty, Dion - and by presenting an overview of two already-funded
projects. (Fifty-nine million in research dollars $$ helps the "M" word go
down....) The second article, "Marriage promotion: a simplistic 'fix'?"
makes clear they're still on guard about poverty, racism and violence.
My favorite paragraph in the first article:
> The state and demonstration projects are breaking ground in another way, too,
> Stanley comments. OMI, for example, was originally launched by then-governor
> Frank Keating, a Republican, and is now supported by the current governor,
> Democrat Brad Henry. On a more personal level, Stanley--a self-professed
> conservative--and Markman, a liberal, have worked together for 30 years.
> They've had many spirited exchanges, but usually manage to build consensus, in
> particular by sticking to good science and practice and "avoiding things with
> a political edge," as Stanley puts it.
Kind of summarizes what we've been able to do in the coalition. Now, if we
can just keep focused on collegiality and cooperation AND good science and
practice AND keep Marriage from falling off the edge and sinking into a
political quagmire....blub, blub, blub..... Would be terrible to lose it at
this point. - diane
- THE QUESTION OF MARRIAGE AND COMMUNITY WELL-BEING
APA Monitor (American Psychological Association)
Volume 35, No. 8 September 2004
BY TORI DeANGELIS
Through research, some psychologists are informing an administration effort
to foster marriage among low-income couples.
When President Bush announced plans in 2001 to direct $1 billion over five
years into the welfare-to-work budget to promote marriage among low-income
people, a predictable partisan battle ensued. Liberals argue that the agenda
stigmatizes poor, single mothers and sets the stage for domestic violence.
Conservatives contend the move would stem the rates of divorce and
out-of-wedlock birth and bolster a society heading toward moral decay.
The main legislative vehicle to reauthorize the welfare-to-work or Temporary
Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, H.R. 4, passed the House but is
stalled in the Senate, in part because Democrats have been fighting to raise
the minimum wage before agreeing to pass the bill.
As this political potato heats up, government contractors have asked some
psychologists who conduct marriage and relationship research to consult on
two "healthy-marriage" demonstration projects that already have been funded
by the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Two of the
country's top poverty and welfare think tanks--Mathematica and Manpower
Demonstration Research Corporation, or MDRC--won large grants to conduct
these projects. Along with a number of state-run projects that also involve
psychologists, the federal government is likely to draw on or extend these
demonstration projects if the H.R. 4 monies are approved.
Psychologists' involvement in these efforts represents new territory in
several ways. Not only are they entering a volatile political arena, but
they are being asked to tailor their interventions for a new and
understudied population. In addition, they are turning their gaze toward
marriage, though their theoretical orientation tends toward helping to build
better relationships regardless of marital outcome.
As a consequence, it's important to ensure that good science and practice
inform these interventions, says University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
psychologist Carolyn Pape Cowan, PhD, a longtime relationship researcher,
who, along with her husband, UCB psychologist Philip Cowan, PhD, is
consulting on the MDRC project and evaluating a five-site project in
California to encourage young fathers' involvement in childrearing.
"Along with many other consultants, we're working to make sure that these
services, programs and interventions are realistic to the people we're
serving," says Cowan. "We feel it's very important to do a lot of talking
with the people these services are targeted for, to explore what would draw
them, what they would want and need, and what they would find helpful."
That said, those involved say the demonstration projects appear less
partisan than they would have thought. Government representatives, policy
experts and academicians, for the most part, are holding sophisticated
discussions on building sound, research-based programs that serve people's
real needs, Cowan and others say.
Psychologist Wade Horn, PhD, assistant secretary for the ACF and a main
proponent and designer of federal proposals on marriage promotion, says that
given many parties' criticism of the administration's plan (see page 42), he
has made a point of clarifying his own position, which he says is based on a
range of research findings and is intended to help all of those involved.
"This initiative is not about the government coercing anyone to get married
or stigmatizing single parents," Horn says. "It is to help couples who
choose marriage for themselves develop the skills and knowledge necessary to
form and sustain healthy marriages."
Underlying this agenda, he adds, is the impetus to create a better climate
for children, "the ultimate beneficiaries of this initiative," he says.
Indeed, researchers of all stripes increasingly agree that children do
better emotionally and academically when they're raised with two happily
married biological parents, he and others note.
A model demonstration
The Mathematica project is the furthest along of the demonstration projects
and shows how psychologists are getting involved. Called Building Strong
Families (BSF), it was awarded $19 million two years ago and centers on
low-income, unmarried couples who are expecting a baby--a population
researchers believe is important to target, says the project's principal
investigator, social psychologist M. Robin Dion. (By contrast, the MDRC
project, Supporting Healthy Marriages, targets low-income couples in their
childbearing years who are already married or planning to marry. It was
awarded $40 million and was launched in the fall.)
BSF will develop and evaluate six large programs around the country aimed at
fostering marriage and relationship skills in these young, unwed, expecting
couples and helping them connect with practical services. It makes sense to
focus on this population for two reasons, Dion believes. For one, research
shows that 82 percent of these couples are romantically involved and many
say they expect to marry. Yet within a year of their child's birth, less
than 10 percent do marry and most break up, leaving the children to be
raised most often by a single mother. For another, research finds that
couples are at their closest following the birth of a baby, but are
vulnerable to relationship decline soon after.
As part of BSF's development phase, Dion asked one of the country's foremost
marital researchers, psychologist John Gottman, PhD, of the University of
Washington, to redesign for low-income unwed couples a successful
intervention he had previously used with middle-income married families
around the time of their child's birth. The program adaptation is one of
three being pilot-tested with low-income unwed parents in Florida, the first
test site for the project.
Gottman's earlier research showed that the relationship dive that often
occurs after an infant's birth can be mitigated with a relationship
intervention that helps couples improve relationship skills, build affection
and deepen mutual commitment. In the Journal of Family Psychology (Vol. 14,
No. 1), his team reported that, at a one-year follow up, couples randomly
assigned to the intervention were less hostile toward one other and happier
in their relationship than those in the control group. Moreover, women in
the program group were much less likely to develop postpartum depression,
and at three months their babies were calmer and better connected to their
parents, the team found.
Besides building couples' communication, Gottman wants to reach out more
fully to young fathers in the Florida project, he says. Caseworkers and
young mothers' own mothers often ignore these young men as potential allies,
he notes. "Yet we've observed that the fathers want to be involved with the
babies, and the mothers want them to be involved," he says.
In another move intended to reach low-income couples, Dion paired
Gottman--known for his naturalistic videotaped research of couples--with Joe
Jones, director of a "responsible fatherhood" program in inner-city
Baltimore that his colleagues see as innovative. Jones, himself from a poor,
inner-city background, instructed Gottman on what might work with this
population. "You want to reach these people?" he said. "Do a multi-media
show, like a talk show. Then they'll come."
To this end, Gottman and his team--including his wife, psychologist Julie
Gottman, PhD, and a video production crew--are creating and filming 68
videotapes on topics such as emotional intimacy, constructive conflict
resolution and postpartum depression. They include both talk-show segments,
where "hosts" such as Jones moderate conversations with couples and experts
on specific topics, and shorter clips of real couples engaged in dialogue on
such topics. Both will be used to begin workshops and serve as springboards
The format has been a hit with couples helping to test it, says Gottman.
"The couples have taken charge of the show and spoken honestly about the
topics," he says. "Their exchanges have been riveting." The format seems to
work, he adds, because participants use the people in the videos as vehicles
to discuss their feelings, without necessarily having to bring up personal
Oklahoma: the divorce state
Running on a parallel and sometime overlapping track with the demonstration
projects are a number of state marriage initiatives funded by discretionary
Some of these involve psychologists as well, including a newly funded $1.5
million healthy marriage and fatherhood project in Minnesota to be headed by
University of Minnesota psychologist William Doherty, PhD. The details of
these and other state projects are outlined in an April 2004 report by
senior analyst Theodora Ooms and colleagues at the Center for Law and Social
Policy called "Beyond Marriage Licenses: Efforts in States to Strengthen
Marriage and Two-Parent Families."
Oklahoma, with one of the nation's highest divorce rates, is home to one of
the biggest of these projects, the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI). Three
years ago OMI leaders asked University of Denver psychologists Howard
Markman, PhD, and Scott Stanley, PhD, to adapt their long-standing
Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, or PREP, for low-income
couples and implement it statewide. Before it was chosen for this purpose,
PREP had been funded for 24 years by the National Institute of Mental Health
and implemented with middle-income couples in Oklahoma, other states and
A PREP hallmark has been to revise its form and content as data and contexts
change, and the Oklahoma project is an accelerated version of that process,
says Stanley, author with Markman and colleagues of "12 Hours to a Great
Marriage" (Wiley, 2004).
By the beginning of June, the team had trained 1,430 workshop leaders in 77
of Oklahoma's 78 counties to deliver revised forms of the curriculum, which
uses work by Gottman, Markman and Stanley, and others to teach participants
what can make or break a relationship by using skills such as "time out" and
problem-solving, and how to examine deeper relationship issues such as
expectations, commitment and core values. Adapting PREP for low-income
populations has been a huge undertaking, Stanley says. The team has been
learning on the ground about the needs and cultures of a wide range of
low-income people, and has delivered workshops to such diverse groups as
women in domestic violence shelters, prisoners about to return home and high
school students. Eventually the program will undergo federal evaluations, he
The state and demonstration projects are breaking ground in another way,
too, Stanley comments. OMI, for example, was originally launched by
then-governor Frank Keating, a Republican, and is now supported by the
current governor, Democrat Brad Henry. On a more personal level, Stanley--a
self-professed conservative--and Markman, a liberal, have worked together
for 30 years. They've had many spirited exchanges, but usually manage to
build consensus, in particular by sticking to good science and practice and
"avoiding things with a political edge," as Stanley puts it. Indeed, if the
various players can stick to an agenda that's just about helping couples and
their kids, the initiative may end up going the route of teen-pregnancy
prevention programs, says Ooms, a senior adviser to OMI.
"Believe it or not, that once was a new and controversial field and nobody
really knew what to do with it," Ooms says. "But slowly, over time, people
began to work out good programs."
As Gottman has worked on the project in Florida, he's come to think everyone
could benefit from such interventions.
"To me, this is really a nonpartisan problem," he says. "At how many
conventions have we heard the Democrats and Republicans talk about how
important families are? I really think this is a good idea. I wish everyone
could take advantage of it."
For the second article, go to
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