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MU Program Helps Couples, Kids Experience Benefits of Healthy Relationships

August 31st, 2009

Story Contact: Emily Martin, (573) 882-3346,

connecting for baby logo.jpgCOLUMBIA, Mo. – The increase in births to unwed mothers, divorces and couples who cohabitate before marriage has caused a strain on American families, especially children. As part of the National Healthy Marriage Initiative, a University of Missouri program is addressing this issue by teaching parents to build healthy relationships for themselves and their children.

Connecting For Baby (CFB) is a program for low-income, unmarried couples who are new parents or soon-to-be parents. The program, developed by researchers in the Human Development and Family Studies Department (HDFS) in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, takes a prevention approach by targeting young couples, ages 18-27.

“The couples in the program want their children to experience things they didn’t – the stability of having two, supportive and caring parents who love each other,” said Larry Ganong, co-chair of HDFS and professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. “The program is designed to help couples who want to learn the basic resources and relationship skills needed to build and maintain healthy families.”

The lessons included in the program are based on years of research about positive relationships and the benefits of healthy families, which include longer life expectancy and improved mental health. The program encourages couples to work together and stay together. Studies reveal that children who are raised by married parents have better physical health, emotional and financial health, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Our goal is to help couples develop skills to form healthy relationships,” said Marnie Morgan, CFB project manager and MU Extension associate. “We cover a variety of issues including finances, discipline and reducing stress. The sessions provide opportunities for couples to discuss relationships and parenting with other couples, to whom they can relate, while receiving sound information from trained facilitators.”

Couples who qualify for the program:

  • Are in a non-violent relationship
  • Are not married
  • Are ages 18-27
  • Are pregnant or have a baby 3-months-old or younger
  • Meet low-income guidelines

Couples in the Connecting For Baby program receive:

  • Monthly sessions, 11 total, about various relationship and parenting topics
  • An all-expenses-paid weekend couples’ relationship enhancement retreat
  • Tool kits with healthy relationship materials
  • Gift card incentives for participation

“We want our daughter to grow up in a good environment and have two parents who love her,” said Kimberly Carpenter, CFB participant. “We enjoy taking time to develop our relationship and parenting skills; without the program we wouldn’t have talked about our problems or realized we have the ability to solve them.”

Data from the Fragile Families Study, conducted by researchers at Princeton University, reveal that within one year of the birth of a child, only 14 percent of unmarried cohabiting couples will marry and nearly 25 percent will no longer live together.

Connecting For Baby is funded by a $462,828 per year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration For Children and Families and delivered by the MU HES Extension Department of Human Development and Family Studies. It is currently available in several areas including Kansas City, Columbia, Jefferson City and St. Louis. The program also is offered by participating regional Extension Human Development Specialists and CFB staff throughout Missouri.