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Vol 56 No. 9 | August 2004
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$600K Federal Grant Used to Strengthen Marriages

The Orange County Social Services Agency (OCSSA) was awarded a $600,000 Strengthening Marriages federal grant running through September 2006. Family and Consumer Science professor Jim Koval, one of the collaborators providing program implementation services, and Social Work assistant professor Carrie Petrucci received the evaluation grant of $33,345.

"We're very pleased to be recognized," said Koval, who joined CSULB in 1982. "The funding comes as part of the Bush Administration's Healthy Marriage Initiative with the goal of strengthening parenting couples' relationships as a vehicle to improve the quality of life for children," he said.

Koval explained that the spillover onto children that results from abuse or neglect often originates in dysfunctional parent, marital or relationship dynamics. "If we can teach couples how to effectively manage their interpersonal conflicts, it will provide a safer and more stable environment for children."

The grant targets parenting couples where one or both partners have a report of child abuse and/or neglect on their record, and are voluntarily participating with the child welfare system to maintain their intact family and stay out of the court system.

"What we are offering is secondary-level intervention to prevent families at risk from eventually falling into severe dysfunction, where their children may need to be removed from the home and the parents become part of the court system," said Koval.

The federal grant supports delivery of a highly effective couples communication/ conflict skills program called Relationship Enhancement (RE). RE is a 17-hour program aimed at helping couples to develop nine specific communication skills.

"This is a program that would otherwise cost between $375 and $450 per couple but which, through the support of this grant, will only cost $25 per couple," said Koval. The evaluation will determine effectiveness of the RE program as a component in the child welfare system. A quasi-experimental design will track RE program participants and a comparison group who do not participate in RE over the course of the three-year grant.

The proposal drew one of the highest ratings from the federal funding agency on the strength of such innovations as the "train the trainer" model of program delivery. Koval will serve as the RE program supervisor responsible for training RE certified personnel to train RE leaders who will train couples throughout Orange County.

Hopefully, through this grant, parenting couples throughout Orange County will come to more fully appreciate how impactful the quality of their relationship is on their children. As Koval said, "To parent well, couples need to partner well first."

Petrucci hopes the grant will help contribute to the well-being of children at risk.

"I want to see children and families that come into the child welfare system get whatever they need to stabilize their families and enhance the well-being of children in a safe and healthy environment," she said.

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