Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17497 Evaluating the Effects of a Family Strengthening Intervention Program for Economically Disadvantaged New Parents

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 5:30 PM
Independence D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Pajarita Charles, PhD, Researcher, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Anne C. Jones, PhD, Associate Clinical Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Purpose: A dramatic change in the structure of families in the U.S has led to a record percentage of children born to economically vulnerable, unmarried parents. While a large majority of these parents are in cohabiting partnerships, more than 40% dissolve their relationship within one year of their child's birth. Children from these unions are more likely to be raised in a single mother, impoverished household without father involvement. This combination of factors is associated with adverse social, cognitive and academic outcomes for children. Social work policymakers, researchers, and practitioners are grappling to identify approaches to reverse this trend to foster greater family stability. The purpose of this study is to determine if a curriculum-based relationship skills intervention is effective in strengthening relationship outcomes among unmarried, low-income expecting and new parents.

Method: These data come from the Strong Couples-Strong Children (SCSC) project, a quasi-experimental intervention study with low-income, expecting or new parents. A total of 719 participants enrolled in the study between 2007-2011, with 299 mothers and fathers completing both a pre- and post-test. Both members of the couple had to be 18 years of age or older to participate, had to be in a romantic relationship, and the mother had to be expecting or have had their baby in the previous three months. A problematic feature of research that examines dyadic outcomes concerns the nested structure of data. To address this problem we accounted for the nesting of individuals within couples by restructuring the individual-level data set into one that used pairwise data. Using OLS regression analysis with robust standard errors that adjusted for clustering within couples, we estimated four models with covariates at the baseline including demographic characteristics and pre-test scores.

Results: Four OLS models adjusted for clustering were estimated to examine the effect of enrollment in the SCSC program on couples outcomes. Three of four relationship factors were found to have a positive change. These included, on average, an increase in communication skills (p < .001), an improvement in conflict resolution and problem solving skills (p < .01), and an increase in couples' overall relationship quality (p < .05). These findings were found significant while controlling for race, immigrant status, education, employment, other children from the same partnership, and children from previous relationships.

Implications: Findings from this study suggest that this relationship education curriculum can indeed be effective in helping to strengthen couples' relationships. Many of the young parents served in this intervention have grown up without the benefit of having two parents from whom they could observe effective communication and problem-solving skills, and without knowing any married or stable couples. The ability to communicate, problem-solve, and resolve conflict are not only essential life skills but are also critical skills needed for parenting and co-parenting. This study is important to social work practice and policy for providing insight into one type of intervention that can be used to help stabilize the very vulnerable lives of children who are increasingly growing up in unmarried, low-income new parent households.

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