Marriage & Domestic Violence Programs Create Partnerships

Jul 29, 2008

Earlier this month, a group of domestic violence and relationship program experts briefed advocates and policy makers about how domestic violence programs, healthy marriage and relationship programs can work together to promote safety.

Since 2002, the Bush Administration has provided substantial funding for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2006 provides $150 million per year for five years to fund healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs. The July briefing was part of a three-part series designed to share lessons learned from these collaborations.

Healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs receiving federal grants are required to consult with domestic violence experts in developing their programs and activities. Panelists at the briefing reviewed the reasoning behind the consulting requirement and how it is implemented, and discussed an effective model program, emerging curricula and approaches that can help women and men avoid abusive relationships. The collaborations can be difficult, especially when they begin, they said.

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence Executive Director Anne Menard said that healthy marriage and domestic violence programs each have the goal of making families and relationships safer, so it is possible to find common ground. She said the success of healthy marriage programs should not be measured by number because “the quality of relationships matter.” In order to comply with the consulting requirement, healthy marriage programs need to have safe places for women and men to disclose violence, respond in culturally appropriate ways if violence is disclosed, develop protocols for what happens when violence is disclosed, and build partnerships with local domestic violence agencies that can help with the process.

Family Violence Prevention Fund Senior Program Director Juan Carlos Areán warned that “healthy marriage and fatherhood programs are not a substitute for batterer intervention or domestic violence programs.” Violence prevention for men is an emerging field, and there is still much to learn, he added.

Jill Smith talked about her experience after enrolling in Within My Reach, a healthy relationship program in Madison, WI, when she was 19 and pregnant. After taking the class, she became more concerned with how her unhealthy relationship was affecting her child, and the class gave her the skills to recognize that women can “make smarter decisions from any point in your life.”

Other speakers at the briefing included: National Healthy Marriage Resource Center Project Director Mary Myrick and Program Manager Patrick Patterson; Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community Executive Director Oliver Williams; Center for Urban Families (Baltimore, MD) Family Services Director Cassandra Codes-Johnson; House of Ruth (Baltimore, MD) Gateway Project Program Director Lisa Nitsch; and Area Technical College (Madison, WI) Relationships Instructor Marline Pearson.

The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center and the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution are co-sponsoring the three seminars. The first, “Marriage, Employment and Family Economic Success” was held in May. The last seminar, “Healthy Marriage in Culturally and Racially Diverse Populations,” will be held on September 19. Visit for transcripts and audio-tapes of the seminars.

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