Campus: CSU Long Beach -- August 16, 2004

CSULB Professors Teams Up with OC Social Services on $600,000 Project Working with Parenting Couples of At-Risk Families

For Jim Koval and Carrie Petrucci, the ultimate goal is keeping families together and helping them create a safe and happy home environment.

That’s the focus of the California State University, Long Beach professors’ involvement with the Orange County Social Services Agency (OCSSA), which recently received a three-year, $600,000 Strengthening Marriages federal grant for a project that works with parenting couples of at-risk families.

Koval, a professor of family and consumer sciences who specializes in premarital, marriage and family therapy, is working as a consultant and program leader for the project. Petrucci, a social work professor, is serving as the evaluator for the project.

“The funding for the grant comes as part of the Bush Administration’s Healthy Marriage Initiative with the goal of strengthening parenting couples’ relationships as a vehicle to improve the quality of life for children,” Koval noted. “If we can teach couples how to effectively manage their interpersonal conflicts, it will provide a safer and more stable environment for children.”

The grant supports delivery of a highly effective couples communication and conflict skills program called Relationship Enhancement (RE). RE is a 17-hour program aimed at helping couples to develop nine specific communication skills. With more than 35 years of evaluation research on it, RE has been identified as one of the most effective intervention programs to be able to successfully decrease destructive conflicts and to enhance effective communication, greater trust, intimacy and empathy in couples relationships.

The grant is targeting parenting couples who are considered at-risk of child abuse and/or neglect and who are voluntarily participating with the child welfare system to maintain and strengthen their family system.

“The traditional method of intervention is to refer these couples or single parents to parenting classes. But it’s our thesis that the evidence of abuse and neglect is indicative of problems in the couples’ relationships, and that there is a spill-over effect of tensions onto children,” Koval explained. “We believe that a missing element that would help augment the parenting part of the relationship is to intervene and to promote more effective couple dynamics and couple interactions.”

“What we are offering,” he added, “is secondary level intervention to prevent families at risk from eventually falling into severe dysfunction where their children may need to be removed from the home and the parents become part of the court system.”

The evaluation will determine effectiveness of the RE program as a component in the child welfare system. A quasi-experimental design will track RE program participants and a comparison group who do not participate in RE over the course of the three-year grant.

The proposal drew one of the highest ratings from the federal funding agency on the strength of such innovations as the “train the trainer” model of program delivery. As part of the project, Koval received training to become Level 4 Certified, and he is responsible for training RE certified personnel to train RE leaders to train couples throughout Orange County.

Through this grant, the hope is parenting couples throughout Orange County will come to more fully appreciate how impactful the quality of their relationship is on their children. As Koval said, “To parent well, couples need to partner well first.”

Petrucci hopes the grant will help contribute to the well being of children at risk. “I want to see children and families that come into the child welfare system get whatever they need to stabilize their families and enhance the well-being of children in a safe and healthy environment.”

Contacts: Rick Gloady, (562) 985-5454,
Shayne Schroeder, (562) 985-1727,

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