Design for an Impact Study of Five Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Programs and Strategies

OPRE Report #2018-32
Publisher: Washington, DC: U.S.Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation
Mar 31, 2018
Robert G. Wood, Brian Goesling, and Diane Paulsell


The federal government has made a long-standing commitment to supporting healthy relationships and stable families. In the mid-1990s, Congress created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, which had the formation and maintenance of two-parent families as one of its core purposes. TANF provided states with the funding and flexibility to support activities to promote healthy marriage. Beginning in the mid-2000s, the federal government began providing additional funding specifically to support healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) services. The Office of Family Assistance (OFA) in the Administration for Children & Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services oversees these funds and distributes them through a set of competitive multi-year grants to organizations nationwide. OFA made the most recent round of HMRE grant awards in September 2015. These grants support HMRE services for a mix of populations, including youth in high school, individual adults, and adult couples.

Research Questions

  1. What is the effect of offering relationship skills education as part of a regular high school curriculum? How does abbreviating the curriculum influence program effects?
  2. What is the effect of an integrated approach to relationship education and economic stability services?
  3. What is the effect of offering relationship skills education and other support services to low-income pregnant women and new mothers?
  4. How does an integrated approach to relationship skills and economic stability services affect the outcomes of participating couples?
  5. Can text messages informed by behavioral insight theory improve attendance at relationship skills education group sessions for couples?


The Strengthening Relationship Education and Marriage Services (STREAMS) evaluation is a five-site, random assignment evaluation of HMRE programs funded by OFA, with evaluation sites selected from the current round of HMRE grantees. STREAMS will examine the full range of populations served by HMRE programming, including programs serving high school youth and those serving adults as individuals and as couples. The goal of STREAMS is to expand the evidence base by filling gaps in knowledge about the effectiveness of HMRE programming and by identifying strategies for improving the delivery and effectiveness of these programs. This report describes the design of the STREAMS evaluation in each of five study sites, which represent the full range of populations served through the HMRE grant program.


Each STREAMS site will function as a separate study within the larger evaluation, with each addressing a distinct research question. The evaluation team will analyze data and report findings separately for each site to maximize the study’s contribution to the evidence base. The STREAMS evaluation includes both a random assignment impact study and an in-depth process study based on qualitative and quantitative data.