A new five-year project aims to strengthen Missouri families by strengthening individuals' relationships, parenting skills, personal well-being and economic stability. Through personal consultations with case managers and group training, individuals, couples and families will receive training tailored to meet their individual circumstances. The project, Show-Me Healthy Marriages and Relationships, is led by David Schramm, an associate professor of human development and family science and a University of Missouri Extension family specialist, and Chelsea Garneau-Rosner, an assistant professor of human development and family science. The University of Missouri researchers received a $9.6 million grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families to implement the program.
"What really excites me about this project is that it can really make a difference in the lives of Missourians and even those out of state," Schramm said. "As I have evaluated the trends in Missouri, I found the state, historically, has had higher levels of divorce and lower levels of marriage when compared nationally. As a state, we're lagging behind, and I hope to turn the tides on that to really change things, and it starts with one relationship at a time."
The program will target 2,000 low-resource Missouri residents in 21 counties with "wrap-around" services. All participants, whether married, coupled or single, will complete a relationship education class. Working with a case manager, the couples or individuals then will choose additional classes based on their needs. Participants may select training to improve parenting skills, money management skills, job skills and personal health and well-being. Regional specialists from MU Extension and MU graduate students will teach the classes, and these instructors will work directly with partner agencies throughout Missouri to offer the classes. Partner agencies include Central Missouri Community Action in Columbia, Douglass Community Services, Inc. in Hannibal, and Cornerstones of Care - Healthy Families Program in Kansas City.
"We know that relationships are surrounded by financial stress, parenting stress and personal challenges, and there are classes that address those topics," Schramm said. "We hope to create a trickle-down effect, because when you strengthen a couple's relationship, you strengthen the entire family. The idea is that parents will be able to provide a warmer and safer environment that will benefit their children. Helping these families now will help the next generation to have happy and healthy relationships."
The program is technology-driven. Data gathered throughout the program will be collected using tablet computers. Participants will use tablets to complete surveys before and after their classes to measure progress. After couples complete the relationship training, Schramm and his colleagues plan to send the participants text messages with tips to keep what they learned top-of-mind. The goal is to determine how well different types of text messaging work to reinforce the training individuals receive, Schramm said.
In a previous study, Schramm asked more than 1,500 people what they would miss most if they died tomorrow.
"Overwhelmingly, across age, gender, race, the result is the same: family," Schramm said. "It's about happiness, connections, relationships. People matter more than problems, and individuals have this craving for connection - this longing for belonging. That is what we will help these individuals, couples and families strengthen: connections."
Schramm and his colleagues received initial funding in October and plan to roll out classes in 21 Missouri counties beginning in July 2016. Those who are interested in participating in the classes may contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families is funding this research (Grant: 90FM0080-01-00). The grant is the largest ever awarded to the Department of Human Development and Family Science, which is housed in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. For more information from MU Extension on families and relationships, visit http://extension.