A Baltimore nonprofit group says it will spend $1 million to fund an initiative to promote marriage and strengthen relationships among low-income African-Americans.
The Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development plans to train people at 16 community and faith-based organizations to help unwed black parents sustain healthy relationships. The groups, including Baltimore City Head Start, Baltimore City Healthy Start, House of Ruth and DRU/Mondawmin Healthy Families Program, will begin a five-month training effort this month, officials said.
Some of the participating organizations will receive up to $70,000 each to establish programs for young couples using the center's curriculum, which relies on role playing and other activities to build communication and related skills.
The U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the state of Maryland are funding the initiative.
"We now want to provide marriage resources to low-income families similar to the resources that have been available to middle-class families for years," said Joseph T. Jones, the center's president and founder. "This is groundbreaking work. This is exploratory work. But our community can't survive [with] 70 percent of children born out of wedlock."
Studies have shown that children raised by two parents in homes free of violence do better in school and are less likely to live in poverty, said Jones.
The Bush administration has urged family strengthening and marriage programs such as the one initiated by the center.
Although the programs have supporters across the political spectrum, critics complain that the government should not play matchmaker and that the initiatives could lead women to marry unsuitable mates.
Some also say more research needs to be done on the topic and they express frustration over the reduced funds for programs proven to decrease teen pregnancy.
"I'm all in favor of it," Sandra Hofferth, a professor in the University of Maryland's family studies department, said of relationship programs. "But a group of people also believes that some attempt needs to be made to make sure fathers and mothers get good stable employment. Relationship is important, but one of the main problems couples have is financial difficulties."
Cassandra Codes-Johnson, who works for the center and Baltimore Building Strong Families, a similar, federally funded relationship program, said it is critical to help young couples get referrals for jobs, housing or education.
She brought a young couple from Baltimore Building Strong Families to speak about their experiences at yesterday's news conference on the new initiative.
Laneisha Drafts is 18, Duane Drafts is 19. They recently married and are expecting a baby in July.
"My father wasn't really around. I've never really seen a good marriage that lasted," said Laneisha Drafts, a high school graduate who is looking for work and dreams of being an obstetrician. "I thought it'd be simple, but once I got married, I found out you can't just say, `I don't want to be with you [anymore].'"
Marriage isn't a fairy tale as he had thought, Duane Drafts said.
"There are ups and downs, but as long as you work to get through it, you can get through it," he said.
Instead of shutting down into silence, Duane Drafts said, he has learned how to talk through disagreements.
Husband and wife are better at compromising, both said.
In one class exercise, they took turns addressing their future child, imagining what they might say to him or her. Duane Drafts said he wants to take a different path than his father and is determined to know his child well.
"That lightens me up inside," Laneisha Drafts said, "that I married someone willing to be a great father, no matter what."