By: Colette Tano, M.P.P. and Laura Arnold, Ph.D., CFLE

Colette Tano, M.P.P., is a Research Associate at ICF where she works on providing support on the National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families.
Laura Arnold, Ph.D., CFLE, is a Technical Specialist at ICF where she works on research and evaluation projects related to adolescent and family health, healthy marriages and relationships, and effective programming.


The views expressed in In Focus are exclusively those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect official positions of their employers or clients. References to materials or services in the public domain do not imply endorsement from those entities.


Approximately one in five children (20%) in the United States lives in families whose incomes are below the poverty line. Growing up and living in poverty is associated with a wide variety of negative outcomes, including decreased brain development; low academic achievement; delayed socio-emotional development; and poor physical, mental and behavioral health. Unfortunately, almost twice as many children (37%) will experience poverty at some point during their first 18 years of life.

Family fragmentation is one of the leading causes of poverty in the United States, and is a contributor to families’ destabilization. Not only that, family fragmentation increases taxpayers’ costs, as these families need extra economic support and perhaps even safety-net services to achieve self-sufficiency (e.g., Amato, 2010). In the United States alone, family fragmentation costs an estimated $112 billion to taxpayers per year because of divorce and unwed childbearing (Scafidi, 2008). It also puts individual family members at risk- for instance, children from fragmented homes show poorer overall well-being and problem behaviors (e.g., Cavanagh et al., 2006, Fomby & Sennott, 2013).

Social service agencies are a crucial part of the safety-net for families facing the hurdle of achieving or maintaining economic stability. However, these agencies can sometimes lack the resources to address relationship and family dynamics as part of their service delivery systems.

As a service of the Office of Family Assistance, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families (Resource Center) supports the integration of healthy marriage and relationship education into targeted safety-net service delivery systems as part of a comprehensive strategy to strengthen families and promote family self-sufficiency. Healthy marriage and relationship education focused on communication, conflict resolution, parenting, and financial education can strengthen skills and reduce stressors for individuals, couples, and families—especially when integrated into existing service delivery systems.


Want to Maximize Services?

The Resource Center provides complimentary support, training, and technical assistance to safety-net service providers with the understanding that holistic programs that simultaneously address relationship skills alongside economic supports are essential to helping families achieve self-sufficiency, child well-being, and family stability.

Here are a few ways that the Resource Center provides resources (all free-of-charge!):

Looking for More?

The Resource Center also hosts a content-rich website, with a multi-platform outreach and dissemination strategy that effectively engages stakeholders through social media, newsletters, webinars, conferences, training and technical assistance, and other presentations targeting organizations that serve high-risk youth, low-income or culturally diverse individuals, and couples and families. Through these efforts, the Resource Center fosters collaboration and integration that strengthens program services through the inclusion of healthy marriage and relationship education perspectives and strategies.