The U.S Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced the grant Tuesday.
“This project will help Kentucky improve the well-being of children, promote paternity establishment and help parents provide increased financial and emotional support for their children,” said Dr. Wade F. Horn, ACF’s assistant secretary. “With today’s announcement, we now have nine child support enforcement projects aimed at developing and testing new strategies in communities across the nation to support healthy marriages and parental relationships.”
Texas and Georgia also received grants Tuesday, for a total of almost $3 million in federal awards.
The project’s goals include increasing paternity establishment, improving couple relationships and reducing the potential for domestic violence.
Dr. Eugene Foster, the cabinet’s undersecretary for Children and Family Services, lauded the grant initiative.
“Marriage is a private matter,” he said. “But when a relationship breaks down it can have public implications on the well-being of a couple’s children and on the greater community. Society has a vested interest in promoting healthy marriages.
“The family intervention provided through this grant will give Kentucky’s kids better outcomes,“ Foster said. “Children are shown to be healthier and do better in school when they have two parents. For the betterment of society and the well-being of our children, healthy marriages do matter.”
The cabinet, the University of Kentucky and Bluegrass Healthy Marriages Partnership collaborated to apply for the research-based grant. UK will administer the grant through the partnership. Matching funds required by the ACF will come primarily through private contributions and community service time donated by UK faculty.
UK’s Department of Family Studies will work in concert with the partnership, a community-based nonprofit organization, to manage the project in Fayette and its contiguous counties over three years.
The partnership is a growing network – including local schools, clinics, civic organizations, faith-based groups, public agencies, businesses and other organizations -- that will provide marriage and parenting education activities and cross-promote those activities so that each others’ constituents can participate.
While activities may appeal to broader audiences, the project is primarily aimed at unmarried or married couples who have or are expecting to have children.
Family science research has confirmed that children do best when their parents remain together in a non-high-conflict marriage. As a result of this prevention approach, the ACF has stated that it is reasonable to expect child support enforcement issues will lessen.
The initiative will emphasize relationship skill building through programs, events and projects sponsored by the individual organizations. These activities, typically highly regarded programs such as “Relationship Enhancement” or “Seven Habits of Highly-Effective Families,” will be sensitive to the cultural, socioeconomic, gender and circumstantial conditions of the couples associated with the partner organizations.
The initiative will also promote co-parenting and child support commitment by couples who choose not to marry or stay married.
As part of the grant’s terms, activities that are funded by the grant must be neutral with respect to religion, though actual programming will ordinarily be funded directly by partnering organizations themselves.
Grant projects are required to screen participants for domestic violence and refer appropriate individuals for services.
The cabinet’s Division of Child Support, part of the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), will monitor the grant through the number and progress of participants from information submitted by the partnership.
No child support funds will pay for the project.
Greg Thompson, executive vice president of the Bluegrass Healthy Marriages Partnership, said the grant will allow the partnership to help “OK” marriages become more satisfying and resilient, to help fragile marriages to reverse their plight and become stronger and to help couples intending marriage to learn research-based methods that can help them nurture the lifelong commitment they desire.
“Much of the magic in this initiative is vested in bringing organizations of every sector in the community to understand that it is a legitimate use of their attention and resources to help the people within their influence enjoy stronger marriages,” Thompson said.
“For instance, adults and children who live in married homes enjoy better physical and mental health, so it is legitimate for hospitals and clinics to support marriage-strengthening programs for their patients,” he said.
Research also shows that, on average, married men are more dependable and productive, and that married women with children appreciate the domestic assistance advantage that their marriage affords, relieving them from some of the stress of child-rearing.
“That information suggests that employers are wise to think about relationship skills activities as a normal part of their employee-assistance programs,” Thompson said. “And when parents enjoy a marriage not characterized by high conflict, children do better in every category I’ve ever seen, and perhaps most notably, academically.”
The healthy marriages grant is awarded under the authority of Section 1115 of the Social Security Act and requires that each project be designed to improve the financial well-being of children or otherwise improve the operation of the child support enforcement program. Section 1115 authorizes states to conduct experimental, pilot or demonstration projects likely to assist in promoting the objectives of the Social Security Act.