In Clark County, Parents As Partners Program Teaches Why Couples Count
A five-year “1115 Healthy Marriage waiver” demonstration has come to an end in Clark County, Ohio—but the program it created is far from gone. Parents As Partners has become an important part of the county’s Child Support program.
Parents As Partners was designed to teach healthy relationship skills to parents involved with the Child Support program. It focuses on providing parents a skill set so they can communicate more effectively with each other and better meet the needs of their children.
Based in the Clark County Child Support Services office, trained case managers initially met with clients coming to the agency for paternity testing and support hearings. That changed over time; referrals now come from a variety of sources: Family & Children Services case managers, the court, other relationship-building programs and community providers, and participant referrals. For the five-year period, the program’s goal was to provide training to 500 participants. By the end of the fourth year, the program had already served more than 600 people.
Staff designed the eight-hour curriculum primarily for low-income couples. Most of the participants are current or former recipients of public assistance, and most lack stable family backgrounds. Typically, participants have few, if any, role models of healthy relationships. The facilitators (a man and a woman) present the one-hour coaching sessions to individual couples. They are flexible in their approach and adjust sessions and materials to each couple. They may also meet with participants separately to help resolve certain issues before meeting with them as a couple.
In addition to helping couples improve relationship skills, the program provides a service to Child Support Services clients beyond standard enforcement. As the research suggests, we have found that couples who participate in the Parents As Partners program are more likely to make their child support payments: 80% are paying on active orders. More importantly, because the couples learn to work out issues on their own, they do not look to the child support system to “punish” the other parent.
Another benefit of the Parent As Partners program is that case managers are able to treat clients in a holistic manner and link them to other services such as GED, job training and community health resources.
To provide meaningful assistance to the Child Support Services program, helping parents to manage their relationship with some basic communication skills can cut down on the need for traditional enforcement and help provide children with the total support they need from their parents.