October 2010 Archives

In Monday's front page article of The New York Times, Patricia Cohen cites The Future of Children: Fragile Families journal as an example of the resurgence and recent acceptance of research around culture and poverty.

Fragile families, defined as couples who are unmarried when their children are born, face greater economic and stability risks, which can endanger child wellbeing. The Future of Children volume, based on the nine year longitudinal fragile families study and other research explores the increase in the number of fragile families over the past fifty years and the ramifications of this reality, and recommends policies to ensure child wellbeing.

A key finding of the fragile family study is that contrary to popular perception, most unmarried parents are together at the time of their child's birth. However, just a few years later many have broken up and are no longer co-parenting in a healthy manner. Policy makers and practitioners who focus on these parents later in the child's life may have missed a "magic moment" - the child's birth - at which parents can be given services to shore up their relationship and learn critical co-parenting and relationship skills.

Based on this central finding, five steps to strengthen fragile families are recommended:

  1. Support the three T's: Treat early, Treat often, and Treat together. In other words, treat couples when they are together at the time of their child's birth, provide lots of services at that time, and treat as the family that they are.
  2. Decrease the number of nonmarital births by "going to scale" with sexual education programs and resources. Most parents in the fragile families study had their first child as teens so preventing that first young birth would go a long way to reducing the number of children exposed to the break-up of their parents and the instability created when their parents date in search of new partners.
  3. Increase union stability and father involvement in fragile families by building on and perhaps modifying marriage-education programs that have shown to be successful with middle class families.
  4. Redesign tax and transfer programs so that children not only have access to high-quality services, but that benefits are not cut or reduced if parents marry or live together.
  5. Develop and rigorously evaluate new demonstrations in the areas of how postsecondary education and penal policy affect the lives of fragile families.

For a summary of the volume, full journal, and complementary policy brief, please go to: http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/journals/.

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