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Siciliano Forum to Address Public Policies on Children in Non-Traditional Families

Sara McLanahan, Director of the Bendhim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing

October 9, 2003 — The Bush administration is planning to spend $1.5 billion over the next five years on new programs to promote “healthy” marriages. The primary targets of the new initiative are unmarried couples that have recently had a child together. The initiative raises many questions about the feasibility and desirability of promoting marriage.

Sara McLanahan, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, will discuss these questions at the Seventh Annual Rocco C. and Marion S. Siciliano Forum: Considerations on the Status of the American Society at the University of Utah. The lecture, titled “Fragile Families and the Marriage Agenda,” will be held Monday, Oct. 20, at noon, in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts’ Dumke Auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public. A follow-up panel discussion on the same topic and the issues surrounding it will be held immediately following the lecture, at 1:15 p.m., also in the Dumke Auditorium.

Panel participants will include Sara McLanahan; Dawne Moon, University of California, Berkeley; Lynn Wardle, Brigham Young University; Matthew McKeever, Mount Holyoke College; Lori Kowaleski-Jones, University of Utah. Karen Crompton, executive director of Utah Children, a non-profit agency, will moderate the panel.

In conjunction with the Siciliano Forum, the Department of Family and Consumer Studies will also host a one-day conference, on Saturday, Oct. 18th, around the theme of fragile families. The conference is free and open to the public and will include speakers from a variety of universities. The conference has been approved for continuing education credit for social workers and certified family life educators. For more information on the conference, call 581-7491 or 585-0074.

“Advocates of Bush’s initiative argue that marriage will increase the economic wellbeing of unmarried parents and improve the lives of children,” notes McLanahan, herself a divorced mother of three children for 10 years. “Critics argue that, at best, marriage initiatives will not work, and at worst, they may increase domestic violence, making mothers and children worse off. In order to assess these claims and to design effective programs, we need better information on the capabilities of unmarried parents and the nature of their relationships and commitment.”

McLanahan’s presentation, co-sponsored by the University of Utah Department of Family and Consumer Studies, will focus on three questions: Will unmarried parents participate in the new programs as envisioned by the Bush administration? Will the programs increase their marriage rates? Will children be better off? She will use information from a new longitudinal survey of unmarried parents, titled “The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.

“This is Bush’s big program as far as poverty and social programs go,” explains McLanahan. “The topic is very timely. Welfare reform- or getting welfare mothers into the workforce-was the Clinton’s initiative. Bush’s big push is to get them married.”

McLanahan directs the Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and is an associate of the Office of Population Research. She holds faculty appointments in Princeton’s Department of Sociology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Her research interests include family demography, poverty and inequality, and social policy. She teaches courses on poverty and family policy. She is co-author of Fathers Under Fire (1998); Social Policies for Children (1996); Growing Up with a Single Parent (1994); Child Support and Child Wellbeing (1994); and Single Mothers and Their Children: A New American Dilemma (1986). She has served on the Boards of the American Sociological Association and the Population Association of America and The National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine’s Board on Families, Youth, and Children. She is currently president-elect of the Population Association of America.