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References expanded and updated to include current research. Expanded discussion of empirical research that qualifies FLE programs as evidence-based or promising. Expanded discussion of FLE themes and topics, instructors, settings, and funding sources.

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Family Life Education

Abstract and Keywords

This entry provides a brief overview of family life education as a field that provides training in life areas which impact the well-being of families and individuals. It focuses on three primary program areas: parental education, premarital and marital education, and adolescent sexuality education. It identifies noted contributors to the field, as well as evidence-based programs and target populations. It summarizes how family life education integrates with the profession of social work as well as how it is distinct.

Keywords: life skills training, marital education, parent education, sex education

Family life education (FLE) is a preventive and intervention venue that facilitates skills and knowledge to strengthen the well-being of families and individuals. It is relevant to people across the life span, and interventions are offered in schools, health care facilities, churches, community agencies, and businesses. FLE programs address developmental tasks and life issues that require specific knowledge and skills to navigate. They are instructive in nature, utilizing group, family, and individual modalities, as well as self-guided curriculum and the media. Presenters can be teachers, nurses, the clergy, social workers, psychologists, counselors, or trained program facilitators. Although FLE encompasses a range of programs, the most widely utilized are in marital and premarital education, parent training, and human sexuality, which are the subjects explored in this entry.

Developers and Contributors

Contributors to the FLE field identified here have developed prominent interventions or have been central in research. Thomas Gordon developed the Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) program in 1975 (Noller & Taylor, 1989), followed by Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay with the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program in 1984 (http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/ViewIntervention.aspx?id=132). Organizations such as the Child Welfare League of America (http://www.cwla.org) and the National Parenting Education Network (http://www.npen.org) have guided the field of parenting education through sponsored research, curriculum development, policy advocacy, and consultation to child and family service organizations and practitioners.

Miller, Nunnally, and Wackman pioneered evidence-based marital education with the Couple Communication (CC) Program in 1968. Bernard Guerney developed the Relationship Enhancement (RE) program in 1977 (Jakubrowski, Milne, Brunner, & Miller, 2004). Markman and Stanley developed the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP; Stanley, Jenkins, & Markman, 2004).

Contributors from a number of disciplines have guided FLE intervention with adolescent sexuality and pregnancy prevention. Some recognized scholars and program developers are Josefina Card, Michael Carrera, Douglas Kirby, Jennifer Manlove, Susan Philliber, and Julie Solomon (http://www.thenationalcampaign.org). Organizations such as the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the Alan Guttmacher Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation are prominent in research, policy development, and dissemination of essential information.


Sexuality programs for adolescents have burgeoned with available federal funding since the early 1990s. Offered as health education, human development, and family living, they are a strategy to reduce adolescent risk behaviors that may lead to STD infection, HIV, or early pregnancy. In 2001, Jindal reported to Congress that there were over 700 adolescent sexuality programs in the United States, in 47% of urban communities.

Premarital and marital education programs focus on communication and relationship growth with married couples and those planning to marry. Examples of widely used programs are the PREP (Halford, Sanders, & Behrens, 2001) and the CC Program (Butler & Wampler, 1999). More than one-third of marrying couples in the United States receive some form of relationship education (Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markman, 2006). Historically, recipients of these programs have been primarily middle-class and White, and most providers have been religious organizations. This trend is being challenged by critics who question the relevance of traditional couples education for low-income and minority couples. Researchers encourage a broader application that encompasses low-income couples, couples at risk for divorce, couples who are repartnering and bringing children from prior relationships, and culturally diverse adolescent couples (Adler-Baeder & Higginbotham, 2008; Adler-Baeder, Higginbotham, Kerpelman, Schramm, & Paulk 2007; DeMaria, 2005). Others emphasize the need for intervention at points of major adjustment for couples, such as those experienced by military families and couples entering retirement.

Parenting education expands understanding, attitudes, knowledge, and skills of parents and their children (http://www.npen.org). These programs are increasingly utilized by child protective services, juvenile justice, and the courts. Numerous studies (for example, Bryan, DeBord, & Schrader, 2006; Landy & Menna, 2006) demonstrate effectiveness in preventing and treating child abuse, school dropout, aggressive behavior, juvenile crime, and teen pregnancy. Programs for adolescent parents that focus on sexuality, school achievement, and parenting are provided in most states and urban school districts.

Change Philosophy and Techniques

The fundamental change philosophy of FLE is that individuals and families can adapt and cope effectively with changes and life challenges when they receive essential knowledge and skills. This philosophy is empirically supported (for example, Halford et al., 2001; Harris, 2006) and corresponds to the change philosophy of social work.

FLE is grounded in human behavior and practice theories that guide social work and related professions. Erikson's theory of development and Piaget's cognitive-developmental theory are prominent in parenting education. Behavioral theory is a foundation of parenting and marital education. Cognitive-behavioral theory, social learning theory, and German & Gitterman's (2008) ecological perspective are fundamental in FLE.

Skills building has become an especially important component of effective adolescent pregnancy prevention programs (Harris & Allgood, 2009). Such components as problem solving, decision making, relationship skills, and service learning are increasingly central in FLE programs.

Evidence-Based Practices and Programs

An abundance of empirical research has shown evidence of effectiveness in all areas of FLE, resulting in a considerable number of programs qualifying as evidence based. This is especially the case for couples' education and sexuality education. Four marital education programs demonstrated effectiveness in improving communication skills and in relationship satisfaction in controlled trials with follow-up assessments of at least 6 months: (a) Building Strong and Ready Families (PREP; Stanley, Blumberg, & Markman 1999; Stanley, Jenkins, & Markman 2004); (b) Relationship Education (RE;Guerney, Ross, & Baker, 1985); (c) The CC Program (Miller, Nunnally, & Wackman, 1992); and (d) Strategic Hope-Focused Enrichment (Worthington et al., 1997).

More than 20 adolescent sexuality programs are identified as effective, and 5 are listed as nationally recognized youth research and policy groups, including Advocates for Youth (2008); Child Trends (Manlove, Papillo, & Ikramullah, 2004); the Kirby List (Kirby, 2002); National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (Solomon & Card, 2004); and the Program Archive on Sexuality, Health, and Adolescence (http://www.socio.com, 2008). Although the lists vary in criteria, five programs are identified in several of the lists: (a) Becoming a Responsible Teen, (b) Making Proud Choices, (c) Safer Choices, (d) Teen Outreach, and (e) Children's Aid Society Carrera Program (Harris & Allgood, 2009).

A number of parenting education programs are categorized as promising, which means they have been found effective in relatively small nonparametric evaluations with quasi-experimental and single-group designs. A limited number have achieved positive outcomes in larger randomized trials, thus qualifying them as evidence based. Two of the latter that demonstrated effectiveness in several domains are the Parent Management Training (PMT) model (Valdez, Carlson, & Zanger, 2005) and a program of prenatal and infancy home visitation by nurses, known today as the Nurse–Family Partnership Model (Eckenrode et al, 2010).

Distinctiveness and Integration in Social Work

FLE is well defined in several ways. Foremost is that FLE primarily uses adult learning techniques to guide format and presentation. FLE interventions are generally quite structured and often presented in a class format. They are instructive and generally guided by a prescribed manual or curriculum.

Although FLE addresses areas of concern to social work, it represents a variety of professions and settings in context and perspective. Family life educators of varied professions are found in health care settings, religious organizations, schools and universities, social service agencies and corporate settings, the military, the justice system, and in government agencies (National Council on Family Relations, http://www.ncfr.org).

A variety of sources provide funding for FLE. Sexuality education offered in middle schools and high schools may be funded by the state board or department of education, often as part of the general education budget (for example, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education, 2011). FLE in health care and mental health settings addresses issues relevant to specific patient needs, such as caregiving for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease or a life-limiting illness. These services are typically funded by the health care facility as part of patient care services (for example, Children’s Hospital Pittsburg, http://www.chp.edu). Community-based not-for-profit organizations offer FLE on issues such as parenting that are common in the broader population. These may be funded by a local or national foundation (for example, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, http://www.grfoundation.org; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, http://www.wkkf.org) or a corporate entity (for example, http://www.kohlscorporation.com). They may also be funded entirely or partially with a participant fee or by a public entity such as the juvenile court system or the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges (http://www.ncjfcj.org).

Similar to social work, FLE is conducted with individuals, couples, families, and groups. It uses an ecosystems approach and a strengths perspective. FLE is grounded in theories that are central in social work, and it focuses on problem solving and skills building. Overall, FLE complements and extends social work treatment. Throughout its history the social work profession has utilized FLE as an integrated service as well as an adjunct intervention. Considering the current increase in FLE programs and the expanding role of social workers in the 21st century, this is a partnership likely to endure.


Adler-Baeder, F., & Higginbotham, B. (2008). The Smart Steps, Embrace the Journey program: Enhancing relational skills and relationship quality in remarriages and stepfamilies. Forum for Family and Consumer Issues, 13(3). Retrieved April 2013, from http://ncsu.edu/ffci/publications/2008/v13-n3-2008-winter/higginbotham-adler.phpFind this resource:

    Adler-Baeder, F., Higginbotham, B., Kerpelman, J. L., Schramm, D. G., & Paulk, A. (2007). The impact of relationship education on adolescents of diverse backgrounds. Family Relations, 56, 291–303.Find this resource:

      Advocates for Youth. (2008). Science and success: Sex education and other programs that work to prevent teen pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved January 16, 2007, from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/sciencesuccess.pdfFind this resource:

        Bryan, G. M., DeBord, K., & Schrader, K. (2006). Building a professional development system: A case study of North Carolina's parenting education experiences. New York: Child Welfare League of America.Find this resource:

          Butler, M., & Wampler, K. (1999). A meta-analytic update of research on the couple communication program. American Journal of Family Therapy, 27, 223–237.Find this resource:

            Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education. (2011). Family life education: Board of education guidelines and standards of learning for Virginia Public Schools. Richmond, VA: Author.Find this resource:

              DeMaria, R. M. (2005, April). Distressed couples and marriage education. Family Relations, 54, 242–253.Find this resource:

                Eckenrode, J., Campa, M., Luckey, D. W., Henderson, C. R., Cole, R., Kitzman, H., et al. (2010). Long-term effects of prenatal and infancy nurse home visitation on the life course of youth: 19-year follow-up of a randomized trial. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 164(1), 9–15.Find this resource:

                  Germain, C. B., & Gitterman, A. (2008). The life model of social work practice: Advances in theory and practice (3rd ed.). New York: Columbia University Press.Find this resource:

                    Guerney, B. G., Ross, E. R., & Baker, S. B. (1985). Effectiveness of relationship enhancement therapy versus therpist’s preferred therapy. American Journal of Family Therapy, 13(1), 11–21.Find this resource:

                      Halford, K. W., Sanders, M. R., & Behrens, B. C. (2001). Can skills training prevent relationship problems in at-risk couples? Four-year effects of a behavioral relationship education program. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 750–768.Find this resource:

                        Harris, M. B. (2006). Primary prevention of pregnancy: Effective school-based programs. In C. Franklin, M. B. Harris, & P. Allen-Meares (Eds.), The school services sourcebook: A guide for school-based professionals (pp. 329–336). New York: Oxford Press.Find this resource:

                          Harris, M. B., & Allgood, J. G. (2009). Adolescent pregnancy prevention: Choosing an effective program that fits. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1314–1320.Find this resource:

                            Jakubrowski, S. F., Milne, E. P., Brunner, H., & Miller, R. B. (2004). A review of empirically supported marital enrichment programs. Family Relations, 53, 528–536.Find this resource:

                              Jindal, B. P. (2001, November 15). Report to house committee on ways and means subcommittee on human resources. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Find this resource:

                                Kirby, D. (2002). Effective approaches to reducing adolescent unprotected sex, pregnancy, and childbearing. Journal of Sex Research, 39(1), 51–57.Find this resource:

                                  Landy, S., & Menna, R. (2006). An evaluation of a group intervention for parents with aggressive young children: Improvements in child functioning, maternal confidence, parenting knowledge and attitudes. Early Child Development and Care, 176(6), 605–620.Find this resource:

                                    Manlove, J., Papillo, A. R., & Ikramullah, E. (2004). Not yet: Programs to delay first sex among teens. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.Find this resource:

                                      Miller, S., Wackman, D. B., Nunnaly, E. W., & Miller, P.A. (1992). Connecting with self and others. Littleton, CO: Interpersonal Communication Programs.Find this resource:

                                        Noller, P., & Taylor, R. (1989). Parent education and family relations. Family Relations, 38, 196–200.Find this resource:

                                          Solomon, J., & Card, J. J. (2004). Making the list: Understanding, selecting, and replicating effective teen pregnancy prevention programs. Retrieved January 16, 2007, from http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/pubs/MakingTheList.pdf

                                          Stanley, S. M., Amato, P. R., Johnson, C. A., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Premarital education, marital quality, and marital stability: Findings from a large, random household survey. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(1), 117–126.Find this resource:

                                            Stanley, S. M., Blumberg, S. L., & Markman, H. J. (1999). Helping couples fight for their marriages: The PREP approach. In R. Berger & M. T. Hannah (Eds.), Preventive approaches in couples therapy (pp. 279–303). Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.Find this resource:

                                              Stanley, S. M., Jenkins, N. H., & Markman, H. J. (2004). Marriage education using PREP with low-income and diverse clients. Denver, CO: PREP.Find this resource:

                                                Valdez, C. R., Carlson, C., & Zanger, D. (2005). Evidence-based parent training and family interventions for school behavior change. School Psychology Quarterly, 20(4), 403–433.Find this resource:

                                                  Worthington, E. L., Jr., Hight, T. L., Ripley, J. S., Perone, K. M., Kurusu, T. A., & Jones, D. J. (1997). Strategic hope-focused relationship-enrichment counseling with individuals. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 44, 381–389.Find this resource:

                                                    Further Reading

                                                    Allen, K. R. (2000). A conscious and inclusive family studies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 4–17.Find this resource:

                                                      Bandura, A. (1999). A social cognitive theory of personality. In L. Pervin & O. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality (2nd ed., pp. 154–196). New York: Guilford Publications.Find this resource:

                                                        Bandura, A. (2002). Social cognitive theory in cultural context. Applied Psychology, 51(2), 269–290.Find this resource:

                                                          Bayse, D. J., Allgood, S. M., & Van Wyk, P. H. (1991). Family life education: An effective tool for prisoner rehabilitation. Family Relations, 40(3), 254–257.Find this resource:

                                                            Brubaker, T. H., & Roberto, K. A. (1993). Family life education for the later years. Family Relations, 42, 212–221.Find this resource:

                                                              Dion, R. M., Devaney, B., McConnell, S., Ford, M., Hill, H., & Winston, P. (2002). Helping unwed parents build strong and healthy marriages: A conceptual Framework for interventions. Final report. Retrieved January 28, 2007, from http://www.buildingstrongfamilies.info/Publications/Framework/helpingunwed.pdf

                                                              Drummet, A. R., Coleman, M., & Cable, S. (2003). Military families under stress: Implications for family life education. Family Relations, 52, 279–287.Find this resource:

                                                                Halford, W. K. (2004). The future of couple relationship education: Suggestions on how it can make a difference. Family Relations, 53, 559–566.Find this resource:

                                                                  Harris, M.,& Franklin, C. (2006). Taking Charge: A life skills group for adolescent mothers. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                    Kazdin, A. E., Siegel, T. C., & Bass, D. (1992). Cognitive problem-solving skills training and parent management training in the treatment of antisocial behavior in children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 733–747.Find this resource:

                                                                      McDermott, D. (2006). Thinking mindfully about parenting and parenting education. Child Welfare, 85(5), 741–748.Find this resource:

                                                                        Melton, G. B., & Thompson, R. A. (2002). Toward a child-centered, neighborhood-based Protection system: A report of the consortium on children, families, and the law. Westport, CT: Praeger.Find this resource:

                                                                          Miller, B. C. (1998). Families matter: A research synthesis of family influences on Adolescent pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.Find this resource:

                                                                            Miller, B. C., Benson, B., & Galbraith, K. A. (2001). Family relationships and adolescent pregnancy risk: A research synthesis. Developmental Review, 21, 1–38.Find this resource:

                                                                              Miller, S., Nunnally, E. W., & Wackman, D. B. (1992). Couple communication. I. Talking together. Minneapolis, MN: Interpersonal Communications Program.Find this resource:

                                                                                Philliber, S., Brooks, L., Lehrer, L. P., Oakley, M., & Waggoner, S. (2003). Outcomes of teen parenting programs in New Mexico. Adolescence, 38(151), 535–553.Find this resource:

                                                                                  Powell, L. H., & Cassidy, D. (2001). Family life education: An introduction. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.Find this resource:

                                                                                    Powell, L. H., & Cassidy, D. (2007). Family life education: Working with families across the life span (2nd ed.). Long Grove: Waveland Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                      Rothrauff, T., Cable, S., & Coleman, M. (2004). All that you can be: Negotiating work and family demands in the military. Journal of Teaching in Marriage and Family, 4(1), 1–25.Find this resource:

                                                                                        Wiley, A. R., & Ebata, A. (2004). Reaching American families: Making diversity real in family life education. Family Relations, 53, 273–280.Find this resource:

                                                                                          Suggested Links

                                                                                          Advocates for Youth: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org

                                                                                          Annie E. Casey Foundation: http://www.aecf.org

                                                                                          California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare: http://www.cachildwelfareclearinghouse.org

                                                                                          Child Welfare League of America: http://www.cwla.org

                                                                                          Couple Communication Program: http://www.couplecommunication.com

                                                                                          National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org

                                                                                          National Extension Parent Education Model: http://www.k-state.edu/wwparent/nepem

                                                                                          Parenting Institute of North Carolina: http://www.theparentinginstitute.org

                                                                                          PET: Parent Effectiveness Training. http://www.gordontraining.com

                                                                                          PREP: Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program: http://www.prepinc.com

                                                                                          STEP: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting: http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/ViewIntervention.aspx?id=132