In response to the congressional mandate to promote two-parent families and marriage specified in the 1996 welfare reform legislation, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services embarked on an initiative to encourage healthy marriage in the broad population and especially within low-income groups. To support further progress in this area, ACF is sponsoring a large-scale, comprehensive demonstration and evaluation of programs designed to strengthen relationships and support the marital aspirations of unmarried couples expecting a child: the Building Strong Families project (BSF). To inform the design and development of strong BSF programs, Mathematica conducted a related project (titled Evaluating the Implementation of Programs to Strengthen Families with Children Born Out of Wedlock, or ESF) to identify and study existing programs that have aspects similar to those envisioned for BSF programs. A major purpose of that project was to identify design and implementation issues likely to arise in BSF programs and describe strategies that have been used to address them in similar programs. One program that was deemed similar to BSF was Family Connections in Alabama (FCA). The FCA was a 12-month project conducted during 2003 that aimed to design, implement, and evaluate a program to provide family life education to low-income unmarried parents of young children. It was selected for study because it was one of very few newly emerging programs that included a focus on couple relationships among low-income unmarried parents. Although some key aspects of the program differed from those of the BSF program model, several of the goals, approaches, and expected outcomes were similar enough to warrant examination for lessons that could inform the development and operation of BSF programs. This report describes and develops lessons learned from the FCA program that are relevant for designing and implementing BSF programs. It first describes the overall program design and planning, and then discusses implementation in each of the study sites, focusing on staffing, participant recruitment, curriculum, structure and content of classes, and receptivity of staff and participants to the program. The final chapter discusses implications for developing and operating relationship/marriage interventions with unwed couples the BSF target population and discusses how the lessons learned may apply to future BSF program design and content. (Author abstract modified)
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