- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2006

BALTIMORE — A welfare-to-work program yesterday announced plans to teach 16 community groups how to provide marriage and relationship skills to low-income couples.

“We want to change the way people in the African-American community think about marriage,” said Joseph T. Jones, president of the Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development (CFWD), which won $1 million in grants to lead the training.

Traditionally, welfare and social services focused on the needs of mothers and children and offered little or no help for fathers, Mr. Jones said.

“Now, we have social welfare programs that are working with moms and dads as a couple,” he said, adding that research shows that children benefit when parents have good relationships.

The initiative uses funds from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Maryland agencies for community service and child support.

The CFWD’s five-month training session will use a new curriculum designed for low-income black neighborhoods.

The “Exploring Healthy Relationships and Marriage with Fragile Families” curriculum, developed by Mr. Jones and others, uses African proverbs and upbeat elements of the hip-hop culture to teach marriage skills. Men and women, for instance, will be taught how to avoid “bad mouthin’ ” (putdowns) and “usual suspectin’ ” (distrust) in their relationships.

After training, the 16 groups will be encouraged to apply for “healthy relationships” funding from the CFWD or the federal government’s new $150-million-a-year marriage and responsible-fatherhood grant programs.

The CFWD also is involved in the federal government’s Building Strong Families (BSF) study. In seven cities, including Baltimore, study workers are recruiting hundreds of young couples who are expecting a baby or have a new baby.

Randomly selected couples will undergo the “Loving Couples, Loving Children” marriage-skills training course developed by Seattle marriage specialist Julie Gottman.

The BSF study will show how marriage-skills courses affect young parents’ relationships, said Cassandra Codes-Johnson, director of the Baltimore BSF program.

At the press conference yesterday, Duane and Laneisha Drafts, who are newly married and expecting a baby this year, said the BSF classes have improved their relationship.

In the past, when they got into an argument, “I just shut down,” said Mr. Drafts, 19. Now, he said, they’ve both learned how to take a break, calm down and talk again with patience and respect.

The course also has opened their eyes to the ups and downs of parenting, said Mrs. Drafts, 18. “Without the training, I would be very stressed by now,” she said.

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