Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Social Work fights to keep families together

A DU school is fighting the effects poverty, incarceration, substance abuse and domestic violence can have on families. 

The Erna and Brad Butler Institute for Families at the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) is leading a multi-state project aimed at strengthening marriages in order to prevent family dissolutions, child abuse and foster-care placements. 

The Healthy Marriage and Family Formation Training Project is funded by a five-year, $1 million federal grant from the Children’s Bureau of the Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. The project, one of five in the nation, develops and pilots training modules for child welfare workers and contract service providers in Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming. 

“Clients in the child welfare system often make poor decisions in their relationships and choice of partners,” says Linda Metsger, training and program manager at the Butler Institute. “So helping them develop better conflict resolution and communication skills not only lowers divorce rates, but also reduces domestic violence and creates a safer environment for children.” 

Metsger says the project does not specifically encourage couples to marry but strengthens the relationships of those who choose marriage for themselves. Training sessions developed since the project began in 2004 include the importance of fatherhood in child welfare, working with incarcerated parents, and building relationship skills among young people who have grown up in the foster-care system. 

“This training helps us view our clients’ relationships in a more holistic way,” says recent institute trainee Jackie Jaramillo, director of Faith-Based Partners, a private nonprofit agency that contracts with Colorado’s El Paso County Department of Human Services to provide family mentoring services. 

GSSW’s Institute for Families—recently renamed to honor philanthropist Erna Butler and her deceased husband, Brad—has conducted research, education, training and consultation for child and family programs since 1994. It currently manages one of the highest externally funded research and training budgets on campus, according to Director Sandra Spears. Nationally recognized for its leadership and collaborative work, the institute also trains all of Colorado’s child welfare workers.  

Once finalized, the Healthy Marriage training modules will be available through the Butler Institute to anyone who requests them. The institute will also adapt the curriculum or develop new content to meet the needs of human service departments in other states. This, Metsger says, ensures that “even when the funding ends, the training doesn’t.” 

This article originally appeared in
The Source, February 2006.

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