Parenting aid is popular — and ineffective

 Close to a billion dollars have been spent to provide relationship counseling to low-income parents writes Tom Bartlett in The Great Mom & Dad Experiment in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The hope is that “better partners make better parents.” 

Couples with babies in tow arrive for dinner one evening at a red brick office building in downtown Oklahoma City.  . . . Seated at one table is a touchingly earnest couple, still in high school, who didn’t plan to have a baby but now want to be the best possible parents. Nearby is a 23-year-old in a baseball cap, pulled low over his eyes, who admits he was dragged here by his girlfriend. There are older couples, too, including a forty-something dad who laughs and says he wants to get fatherhood right this time around. The group is racially mixed: black, white, Asian. Some are married, some not. . . .  They’ve come for the first session of a 13-week program that promises to teach them skills that will strengthen their relationships so that they can provide more stable homes for those babies.

However, it doesn’t work, according to a three-year study of eight programs in different states.

 The programs, the study concluded, did not make couples more likely to stay together or get married. They did not increase the amount of time fathers spent with children. The parents were not more financially stable. Their children were not more emotionally secure.

Family Expectations, which grew out of welfare reform, enjoys broad bipartisan support, writes Bartlett. “Plus it just feels right. Spend time with these couples—the teenage mother with a newborn on her shoulder, the middle-aged dad dangling his keys just beyond his infant’s reach—and you can’t help but root for them and for relationship education.”

Family instability is terrible for kids. But this doesn’t seem to work.

 

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Comments

  1. Mark Roulo says:

    The saddest part was this: “Worse, some programs showed negative outcomes: that is, the control group fared better than those who took the classes.”
     
    My *guess* is that this is because the difference in outcomes between the two groups is so small that random variation will make the control group better sometimes. But this really means that the program should be shut down. Something more useful can be done with the money.
     
    I’ll be surprised if this happens, though.