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Handbook on Child Support Enforcement
Answers to Your Questions
Department of Health and Human Services
VII. ACF HEALTHY MARRIAGE INITIATIVE
The U.S. DHHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Healthy Marriage Initiative began in 2003. Its mission is to help couples who choose to get married to gain greater access to marriage education services that will enable them to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to form and sustain a healthy marriage.
Research indicates that children in stable two-parent families do better, on average, than those from single-parent households. Section 1115 of the Social Security Act (Act) authorizes the Secretary to test new uses of child support funds if he determines that these uses are likely to further the objectives of the Act, improve the financial well-being of children, or otherwise improve the operation of the child support program.
Section 1115 authorizes the Secretary to conduct demonstration projects designed to meet the objectives of the Child Support Enforcement program, such as:
One of the main activities of the demonstration projects will be teaching skills to help couples to communicate better, manage their emotions more effectively when they disagree and be better parents for their children. Skills that help parents work cooperatively should also increase voluntary paternity establishment for children born out of wedlock. Even when couples are unable to sustain a healthy marriage, parents who can work together are more likely to agree to fair support orders and to provide financial and emotional support for their children.
The purpose of the Healthy Marriage Initiative is to test new strategies in communities to strengthen the child support program's ability to promote the financial well-being of children by integrating healthy marriage and healthy parental relationship skills building into the existing range of child support enforcement activities. Funded projects will provide information and skills primarily to couples with children who are considering marriage. It is important for unmarried parents to realize that voluntarily establishing paternity is a giant step towards ensuring that a child can depend on both parents. It is not the beginning of an adversarial child support proceeding. These programs will explain to parents that paternity establishment does not mean abandoning the hope of marriage. Couples can get the information and skills they need to make good decisions about getting married and establishing paternity. These are compatible actions, both of which are important aspects of taking responsibility for one's family.
No. There is no reduction in the amount of Federal or state funds dedicated to supporting the services currently being provided by the IV-D program to families and children as a result of these projects. The Federal funds for the project will add to the total being spent on the IV-D program. The state funds to provide matches for these federal funds are donated funds. They do not come from state child support enforcement agency funds that would otherwise be used to operate the child support program. Section 1115 allows the Department of Health and Human Services to treat donated funds as state funds to be matched with the federal funds.
These projects are designed to produce positive outcomes, but it is precisely the purpose of Section 1115 projects to test ideas that hold the promise of increasing paternity establishment and financial support of children. The Department will conduct a comprehensive, high quality evaluation to assess just how these programs affect families and children, and the operation of the Child Support Program. The evaluation will be designed in partnership with research organizations, academic researchers, foundations and the states and local entities conducting the projects.
No. Healthy marriage projects are intended to help people form healthy and respectful relationships and marriages that reduce the risk of abuse and violence. Domestic abuse and violence are serious problems. Healthy marriage projects do not push people into marriages, but help them understand how healthy relationships and marriages work and help them assess their own relationships realistically. All ACF supported activities must include appropriate attention to potential issues of domestic violence, and every opportunity must be taken to ensure the safety of victims or potential victims.
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