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Feb. 3, 2011
TOPEKA A faith-based organization has asked Gov. Sam Brownback to form a commission and charge it with devising a plan for promoting healthy marriage in Kansas.
“Many social problems can be prevented by children growing up in a two-parent household,” said Joyce Webb, a co-founder of the Kansas Healthy Marriage Institute.
The institute urged the governor to put someone in charge of coordinating the commission and implementing the panel’s recommendations.
“There needs to be an office that would be responsible,” said Mike Duxler, who co-founded the institute with Webb.
The institute is affiliated with Catholic Charities in Wichita.
Duxler and Webb outlined the institute’s proposal before the House Appropriations Committee earlier this week, sharing a copy of an email the group sent to Brownback last month. They later met with Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Rob Siedlecki.
“It could not have gone better,” Duxler said, referring to the meeting with Siedlecki. “He is very familiar with this issue. He said the governor’s two biggest priorities are related to turning the economy around and to strengthening families. He saw the connection between the two.”
Brownback and Siedlecki have each expressed support for using state resources to promote healthy marriages, but have yet to say how such an initiative would be carried out.
The institute’s proposal, Duxler said, would set aside 1 percent of the state’s federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families monies for the initiative.
“We call it the 1 percent solution,” Duxler said.
Kansas expects to receive $101.9 million in TANF funding this year. A 1-percent allocation would be slightly more than $1 million.
TANF funds underwrite the state’s financial assistance program for families living below 32 percent of the federal poverty level, about $485 a month for a three-person household.
Federal regulations, allow states to use their TANF grants to assist poor families, help parents find work, prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies and encourage two-parent families.
“What we’re proposing would meet two of the foundational points,” Duxler said.
Early on, he said, the initiative would likely include a media campaign “to get the word out” and encourage out-of-home fathers to be involved in their children’s lives.
Couples – married and not yet married -- would take part in group workshops and receive support services.
“What we have learned is that there are fundamental skills that exist in healthy relationships,” Duxler said. “These are skills that can be identified and taught to people who either don’t have them or who have them and would like to strengthen them.”
Being able to identify “danger signs” in communication, resolve conflict in a collaborative manner and protect “fun time” are among these fundamental skills, he said.
In 2009, Kansas recorded 18,268 marriages, 10,077 divorces, and 256 annulments.
Between 2008 and 2009, the number of marriages fell 2.4 percent but dissolutions – divorces and annulments – increased 5.2 percent.
Webb said that studies show that children growing up in single-parent families tend to perform “more poorly” in school, and are more likely to use drugs and alcohol. A one-page document that the group distributed to committee members referenced numerous studies but didn’t specifically identify them.
State records show that almost 85 percent of the abortions performed in Kansas in 2009 involved unmarried women. Almost 38 percent of births in the state births that same year were to unwed mothers.
Since 2007, Catholic Charities of Wichita has been participating in a federally funded pilot project aimed at strengthening the marriages of 500 low-income couples in Wichita, Manhattan, Garden City, and Kansas City.
“The research phase concluded last month,” Duxler said. “It’s now in the evaluation phase; they’ll be following up over the next 18 months with families in a control group and in the treatment group.”
Duxler is head of another Wichita-based program, Marriage for Keeps, one of eight included in a national project aimed at finding out what specific strategies have the most success in strengthening relationships.
Catholic Charities oversees both Marriage for Keeps and the Kansas Healthy Marriage Institute.
Duxler and Webb said the institute’s proposal calls for making the workshops available to anyone interested in participating.
“Ultimately, the goal is that every person in Kansas could benefit, directly or indirectly,” Webb said. “This is not just for married people, it’s not just for people who are low-income, and it’s not just people having difficulties in relationships.”
However, she said the TANF funding would only be spent to provide services to poor families.
“There’s a saying that explains our enthusiasm for what we’re proposing,” Duxler said. “It’s ‘For every thousand people hacking at the branches of evil, only one is attacking at the root.’ “We think we are onto the root issue of a lot of social problems.”
During the committee meeting, Rep. Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee, asked if any of the couples involved in the pilot projects were homosexual. None were, Duxler said.