This is a wonderful interview of Francesca Adler Bader with clear, succinct Q & A section to use in your community efforts to explain what marriage education is and how can government funding can be used to turn the tide on family breakdown.   - diane

Healthy marriage initiative takes off in Alabama
The Birmingham News
October 08, 2007
News staff writer

Anybody who has ever been in a bad relationship knows that the experience can take a emotional, spiritual and physical toll.

This has been validated by researchers who have found that failing marriages can lead to social problems and illness in couples as well as their children. Researchers have also found ways to improve relationships, thus making marriages stronger and families healthier.

The U.S. military and many states have turned to this approach. In Alabama it has emerged as the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, funded by a five-year, $8 million federal grant and coordinated by Auburn University.

The initiative is based on a partnership including the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama, state agencies, family resource centers, mental health centers, individuals and community-based organizations.

Francesca Adler-Baeder, director of Auburn's Center for Children, Youth, and Families, has played a key role in gaining the federal grant and creating the new resource network. Here is her expert opinion:

Can you provide a brief overview of the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative?

The emphasis in the Health Marriage Initiative is on education and prevention, much like you would expect in a parenting class. Similarly there is information you can learn about a healthy relationship and relationship skills that serve us well in all relationships and particularly in marital relationships.

The launch of the initiative was this year, and Oct. 1 of last year we received a federal grant for five years from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

We're just working to grow that network of service providers and improve access in general to information on healthy relationship skills. We're working on resources for citizens, educational modules that they go through online, informational pieces they can look at and utilize. We're also doing relationship education for high school students.

What is the foundation for this approach?

What brought me into this work was the very clear scientific basis we have that also makes good common sense - how your relationship is working impacts your parenting skills. It impacts how you're doing individually, which also impacts your parenting skills. So there is a focus on child well-being.

There's a piece of the puzzle that we've been missing, and that is providing preventive services and educational programs focused on teaching healthy relationships. So there's benefit for individuals as adults, and there's benefit for children in families because of this spillover effect.

Other than the Internet, how are you reaching people?

There are community-based programs that provide these educational programs. There are family resource centers, our extension agents who do child and family programs, and faith-based organizations.

We target premarital couples. We have ministers who are requiring premarital education, which is a great idea. Just as important as planning the wedding is planning and preparing for the marriage.

In our state, we also have a large number of non-married parents who are dealing kind of simultaneously with being a new parent and navigating a co-parent relationship. They may not necessarily be married, but there are some skills that can be learned to really enhance that adult relationship, which then benefits the individuals and kids involved.

So basically you're trying to strengthen families by strengthening the primary relationship?

You got it. It's really about strengthening families, and it's really about family stability. It puts kids at risk when they face family reorganizations ... when they go through divorce, recoupling, remarrying. The focus is really on couples having stable relationships that are healthy. The emphasis also has to be on the quality of the relationship. It's not about just being married or just being together. It's about having a good quality relationship.

How many people have you reached so far?

We distributed the Alabama Marriage Handbook, and there were 15,000 of those handed out last year through the marriage license offices. We have just printed another 130,000. Those are going to be distributed in the next several months.

Within the last five months, there were 700 people served in series classes - six educational classes put together. With the youth focus program last year we had over 2,000 students in high schools who participated in a 13-week program.

How can people get more information?

Both professionals and volunteers can go to our Web site. That's our best point of entry right now, www.alabamamarriage.org. You can e-mail directly. There's also a listserv you can sign up for to learn about our training opportunities, which are paid for by the grant.

What about classes for the general public?

We're working on that right now. We'll have a Web page that is under development where you can click on your county and then see who the trained marriage educators are. We currently have a list, and anyone who is interested in looking at classes can either e-mail or call phone numbers on the Web site. Very soon will have that up on the Web via our map. That's part of what we're trying to do: centralize that information.

© 2007 The Birmingham News
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