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 Home > News & Policies > February 2002


Promote Child Well-Being and Healthy Marriages


The Administration’s proposal encourages states to increase their efforts to promote child well-being and healthy marriages. There is an abundant body of research proving that children raised in households headed by continuously married parents fare, on average, better than children growing up in any other family structure. Children growing up without a married mother and father are more likely to experience school failure, to suffer from emotional disturbance or depression, and to abuse drugs. These differences in outcomes for children in two-parent, married families and other families persist even after controlling for family characteristics such as race and parents’ education. For example, children growing up without a married mother and father are about twice as likely to drop out of school, over 50 percent more likely to have a child themselves as a teenager, and over 50 percent more likely to abuse controlled substances. As adults, they are over 30 percent more likely to be both out of school and out of work, and tend to have less stable relationships.

The better outcomes experienced by children in two-parent, married families are only partly attributed to higher incomes. Married parents also tend to spend more time with their children, be more connected to their community, and have more stable relationships.

Cohabitation is not equivalent to marriage in promoting the well-being of children. By the time they reach age 16, three quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents separate, compared to only about one third of children born to married parents. In the last decade, the proportion of cohabiting mothers who eventually marry their child's father fell from 57 percent to 44 percent.

Congress recognized the fact that two-parent, married families represent the ideal environment for raising children when it enacted TANF in 1996. TANF features a variety of family formation provisions. However, state efforts to promote healthy marriages represent just one percent of total TANF program expenditures. The limited attention paid to family formation by states is due in part to the lack of knowledge about how to implement successful marriage and family formation programs.

Our proposal will place a greater emphasis in TANF on strengthening families and improving the well-being of children. Enhanced funding will be made available for research, demonstrations, technical assistance, and matching grants to states. An increased focus on marriage and child well-being will be added to both the purposes of the program and the state plan requirements. The Administration proposal will reauthorize the Abstinence Education Program (see below). Our approach will provide states with greater resources to pursue these goals while maintaining necessary flexibility so that states can design programs that work.

Summary of Proposals

Establish an Overarching Purpose to Improve the Well-being of Children. The Administration’s proposal will amend the overall purpose of TANF to state, "The purpose of this part is to increase the flexibility of states in operating a program designed to improve the well-being of children . . . ." This change is based on the recognition that the goals of TANF are important core strategies for improving the well-being of children.

Clarify the Encouragement of Healthy Marriages as a TANF Goal. The proposal will clarify the meaning of the TANF goal to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. The revised goal will read "to encourage the formation and maintenance of healthy two parent married families and responsible fatherhood."

Support Demonstrations, Research, and Technical Assistance. The Administration’s proposal will establish a $100 million annual fund to conduct research and demonstration projects, and provide technical assistance primarily focusing on family formation and healthy marriage activities. This provision will be funded by elimination of the Illegitimacy Reduction Bonus. The Administration believes that funds previously used for the Illegitimacy Reduction Bonus can be more effectively spent on developing innovative approaches to supporting family formation and healthy marriages.

Create a Competitive Matching Grant Program. The Administration proposes to redirect funds from the High Performance Bonus to create a competitive $100 million grant program available to a limited number of states, territories, and tribal organizations to develop innovative approaches to promoting healthy marriage and reducing out-of-wedlock births. A dollar-for-dollar match to participate in the grant program will be required; states can use Federal TANF to meet this matching requirement.

Require States to Describe Efforts to Promote Marriage as Part of Their State Plan. States will be required to provide: (1) explicit descriptions of their family formation and healthy marriage efforts; (2) numerical performance goals; and (3) annual reporting of state achievement.

Encourage States to Provide Equitable Treatment of Two-Parent Married Families under State TANF Programs. As part of a state’s plan, the proposal will require states to describe their efforts to provide equitable treatment of two-parent married families under their TANF program.

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