Providing Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Programs Virtually: Lessons from a Case Study of the ELEVATE Program in Florida
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation
- Over a four-month period, enrollment for the virtual program exceeded enrollment for the in-person program over the same four-month period the year before.
- UF program staff found that one of the biggest differences between in-person and virtual programming involved the skills and strategies instructors needed to facilitate the virtual workshop sessions.
- Participants’ attendance across the five workshop sessions remained consistent from in-person to virtual workshops.
- The switch to virtual programming required careful advance planning and continued, flexible support for new and experienced instructors alike.
Since 2006, the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided grants to agencies implementing healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) programming for a range of populations. In large part, grantees have provided services in person to the populations they serve. In recent years, however, HMRE program developers and practitioners have explored how to take advantage of the Internet and technological tools to reach couples who would benefit from HMRE program services.
This report presents findings from a case study of how one HMRE program transitioned from providing services in person to providing them virtually. From January 2017 to March 2020, the University of Florida (UF) offered a five-session couples’ workshop—ELEVATE—to married and unmarried couples in six counties across the state. Like many social service programs, ELEVATE was interrupted in March 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent restrictions on in-person program services. After a two-month pause, UF resumed the ELEVATE program in May 2020 using a fully virtual format with no in-person instruction. The lessons that program staff learned from that experience have relevance for other HMRE program developers and providers who are considering offering virtual services.