Building Strong Families: Strengthening Unmarried Parents' Relationships

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation
Smiling family sitting on a couch together building strong families

Strengthening and stabilizing the relationships of low-income couples has emerged as a focus of national policy development and testing. If unmarried parents receive support to fulfill their aspirations for stable, healthy lives together, there could be important benefits for child well-being. The Building Strong Families (BSF) project tested whether well-designed interventions can help interested couples fulfill their aspirations for a stable, healthy relationship, and whether success in achieving that goal can enhance child well-being, increase fathers’ involvement with their children, and lead to more healthy and sustained relationships among unmarried parents.

Sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the first stage of the BSF project focused on the development of curricula to help unwed parents strengthen their relationships. Researchers then used a random assignment research design to test eight voluntary programs that offered relationship skills education and other support services to unwed couples who were expecting or had just had a baby. The programs provided instruction and support to improve relationship skills, communication, and commitment. Focusing on couples undergoing the stresses of the transition to parenthood, BSF aimed to help them strengthen their relationships and act constructively in their joint roles as parents, and thus enhance their children’s development. The programs linked couples to services that address employment, health, substance abuse, and other problems that can erode relationships and reduce prospects for a stable life together. All of the programs developed procedures, in consultation with domestic violence coalitions, to screen out couples who were experiencing domestic violence and for whom participation in the BSF programs could increase risk.