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Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative

January 2003, Vol. 8, No. 1
ISSN 1540 5273

Rachel A. Neal and Lynda C. Harriman

Abstract

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OCES) is a major contributor to the collaborative efforts of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI). OCES is committed to enhancing the lives of Oklahomans and is implementing relationship education to promote healthy relationships and decrease marital distress and divorce. Through the delivery of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP®), OCES Educators have reached hundreds of Oklahomans within only six months of being involved with the OMI. The goal of this statewide collaborative effort is to decrease the state divorce rate by one-third by the year 2010.

The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) has evolved through a statewide collaboration initiated by Governor Frank Keating. In 1998, Governor Keating asked economists from Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma to report methods by which Oklahoma could become a more prosperous state. Two social indicators that were reported to be hurting Oklahoma’s economy were a high divorce rate and high rates of out-of-wedlock births. Therefore, the OMI was launched when steps were taken to secure funding and commit to the delivery of services across Oklahoma. These efforts were made to ensure that the state achieved the goal of reducing the divorce rate by one-third by the year 2010.

Statistics in Oklahoma

The Bureau for Social Research at Oklahoma State University administered a baseline survey to 2323 households to assess Oklahomans’ attitudes about marriage and divorce (Johnson et al. 2001). Results indicated that 32 percent of Oklahoma adults report having been divorced at least once. Among Oklahomans who have been divorced, 78 percent have children with a previous spouse. Among Oklahomans who have never been married and are romantically involved with someone, 37 percent live with their partner. Among currently married persons, 32 percent report having premarital preparation (educational class, workshop, or counseling).

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The OMI is supported by a portion of funds allocated from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, a service provided by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS). TANF provides temporary support for families to meet basic needs. While receiving financial assistance, adult recipients are required to work or participate in activities geared toward work and achieving self-sufficiency. Two purposes of the TANF program targeted by the OMI include (1) “ending the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage,” and (2) “encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families” (Oklahoma Department of Human Services 1999). At the United States Senate Finance Committee meeting in May of 2002, Director Howard Hendrick of DHS stated, “We believe our strategy to strengthen marriages and reduce divorce will strengthen Oklahoma families, and help couples form and sustain healthy marriages.”

Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP®)

The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP®) was chosen as the education program for the OMI due to (1) positive research findings regarding its effectiveness and (2) its flexibility in teaching relationship skills to a variety of audiences. Studies indicate that couples who have participated in the program have been less likely than couples not receiving PREP to breakup or divorce up to five years following the program (Markman et al. 1993). In addition, couples who have participated in PREP are more likely than other couples to gain in or maintain higher levels of relationship satisfaction (Renick, Blumberg, and Markman 1992).

PREP is an educational relationship enrichment program designed to provide the skills necessary to have healthy relationships and decrease marital distress and divorce. PREP attempts to increase protective factors (e.g., friendship, fun, commitment) and decrease risk factors (e.g., destructive conflict). Throughout workshops, core concepts are discussed and participants practice key techniques to achieve the skills related to those concepts (e.g., active listening, effective problem solving, etc.). In addition, homework assignments are provided for couples to reinforce concepts and skills (Stanley, Blumberg, and Markman 1999).

Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service

Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OCES) is participating in the OMI through the delivery of relationship education classes. A contract with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) enabled 37 counties to have certified Extension PREP trainers as of June 2002. Funding also enabled OCES at Oklahoma State University to employ a personal and family relationships assistant state specialist to coordinate Extension Educators’ efforts toward the OMI.

As part of the commitment to the OMI, PREP-trained educators are obligated to offer a minimum of four PREP workshops free of charge to Oklahoma couples or individuals in need of relationship education. OCES Educators receive PREP materials for each participant at no cost for as long as they provide free PREP workshops.

As of June 2002, OCES Educators had provided 58 PREP workshops with an average of twelve participants completing each workshop. In this beginning stage of implementation, OCES has delivered PREP workshops to over 400 Oklahomans.

Workshops are provided in a minimum of eight hours. However, formats vary depending on audience and time availability. Audiences have included marital and premarital couples, TANF recipients, high school students, foster care parents, and single individuals.

The Bureau for Social Research at Oklahoma State University will administer a statewide evaluation of OMI efforts in the future. However, existing participant evaluations of PREP workshops have yielded positive reactions to the program. For example, when participants were asked what they planned to do differently as a direct result of the program, a female participant stated, “I plan on listening more, letting my partner voice his opinions and work together as a couple to solve the problem that we are having.” In addition, a male participant stated, “I am listening more and it has made me a better person.” When asked about the most important thing learned from this program, one high school student stated, “Everything discussed in this program was very beneficial to all of my relationships and to evaluate future relationships. I have the knowledge to know what I want and to discuss this in my relationships.”

Statewide collaboration

The OMI is a collaborative effort of (1) a public relations firm selected as the Project Manager, (2) state agencies such as Oklahoma State Department of Health, DHS, and OCES, and (3) various individuals and organizations throughout the state. Representatives from each agency serve on a state leadership team that provides technical assistance to those who are conducting workshops.

County leadership teams have been developed to identify county needs, potential audiences, and methods for recruiting audiences. County leadership teams are composed of PREP educators, county leaders (e.g., ministers), referral agencies (e.g., DHS), and citizens who are interested in implementing the PREP program and strengthening relationships within the county.

Summary

The OMI is only in its initial stages, but will continue to promote healthy relationships until the long-term impact in Oklahoma can be assessed. For now, thousands of Oklahomans have chosen to participate in the OMI. Many ministers have signed the OMI “covenant” as an agreement to only marry couples who have received premarital education or counseling. Hundreds of couples and individuals have attended PREP workshops, and many public school systems have allowed PREP to be delivered to high school students.

OCES views this program and statewide initiative as an opportunity to teach individuals how to have healthy relationships. The skills provided by this program may be utilized within any relationship. Whether married or single, relationships with children, parents, siblings, peers, coworkers, or employers can be enhanced. OCES is dedicated to enhancing the lives of Oklahomans and will continue to provide this service so as to promote healthy relationships.

References

Johnson, C., S. Stanley, N. Glenn, P. Amato, S. Nock, H. Markman, and M. Dion (Eds.). 2001. Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 Baseline Statewide Survey on Marriage and Divorce (Available from the Publications Clearinghouse of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries).

Markman, H., M. Renick, F. Floyd, S. Stanley, and M. Clements. 1993. Preventing marital distress through communication and conflict management training: A four and five year follow-up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61:70-77.

Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Code of Federal Regulation. 1999.

Renick, M., S. Blumberg, and H. Markman. 1992. The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP®): An empirically-based preventive intervention program for couples. Family Relations, 41:141-147.

Stanley, S., S. Blumberg, and H. Markman. 1999. Helping couples fight for their marriages: The PREP® approach. In R. Berger & M. Hannah (Eds.), Handbook of Preventive Approaches in Couple Therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Authors

Rachel A. Neal, M.S., Assistant State Specialist, Personal and Family Relationships, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma State University.

Lynda C. Harriman, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H Youth Development, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma State University.

Cite this article:

Neal, Rachel A., and Lynda C. Harriman. 2003. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues 8(1).

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