Discussions around the idea of a “transition to parenthood” program began as early as 2003, when Oklahoma leaders began looking at couple life stages as key intervention points. Research on low-income families and the “magic moment” created by the birth of a baby followed, leading to very detailed planning about Oklahoma’s program ideas for this population. From 2006 to 2008, a model was designed and implemented carefully, growing into a robust program serving Oklahoma County families. Today, Family Expectations is a site-based strategy unlike anything that had previously been tried for new and expectant parents.
Family Expectations is a comprehensive, couple-based intervention, designed to enhance family well-being by helping couples strengthen their relationships and/or marriages during and immediately following the birth of a child. Couples can participate in the program for up to 20 months, as enrollment begins during pregnancy (or up to three months post-birth), and the program continues until the child reaches one year of age. FE equips young parents to handle the stressors that will likely accompany their growing family.
Relationship Skills Education
The core of the program is an intense workshop schedule that both parents attend together. The workshops address issues such as healthy communication, anger and stress management, baby care, child development and the importance of preserving couple time. At the completion of the group workshops, couples are invited to attend follow-up or “reunion” sessions and a variety of extended activities on topics germane to their current family needs.
Family Support Services
Couples are supported in the program by a Family Support Coordinator who collaborates with couples to identify family strengths and needs, encourages continued attendance and workshop completion, provides information and referrals and helps couples integrate the workshops’ communication tools and other concepts into their daily lives.
Based on their needs, couples in the program group are referred to a range of supportive services available in the community (and sometimes at the program facility), including services related to housing, employment, education, transportation, child care, treatment for substance abuse or depression and parenting education.
Family Expectations has been evaluated through two federally-funded, rigorous studies. In the Building Strong Families (BSF) evaluation (funded by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), FE led to a consistent pattern of significantly positive effects on the quality and status of the couples’ relationships. The primary outcome domain for the 15-month impact analysis was relationship status and quality. Measures in this domain included relationship status, fidelity, attitudes toward marriage, and four primary measures of relationship quality: (1) relationship happiness, (2) support and affection, (3) use of constructive conflict behaviors, and (4) avoidance of destructive conflict.
The Supporting Healthy Marriage evaluation (also funded by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) found a consistent pattern of positive effects on multiple aspects of couples’ relationships across the eight programs evaluated, including higher levels of marital happiness; fewer negative behaviors and emotions in their interactions with each other; and less psychological and physical abuse from their spouses.
Information about the program and its proven impact on families can be found at www.familiesok.org.