Who Is The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative
Welcome to the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI). The OMI is dedicated to strengthening families and helping couples who choose marriage for themselves, gain access to services and supports to help them build and sustain healthy marriages.
The OMI, a project of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), began in 1999 and is now the largest and longest-standing state-level healthy marriage and relationship program in the nation. OKDHS has allocated a significant amount of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds to support the services of this groundbreaking initiative, which has become a national program model due to the broad-based, innovative design and statewide service delivery strategies implemented and revised throughout the years.
Public Strategies, an Oklahoma-based project management firm, serves as the project manager for the OMI, overseeing all OMI programs and services under DHS’s leadership. The Initiative was developed and gained momentum under former Governor Frank Keating and continues to grow and prosper.
In 1998, University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University economists produced a joint study on what Oklahoma needed to do to become a more prosperous state. Their conclusions included the usual economic analysis relating to tax issues and regulatory reform issues, as well as some surprising results. The economic researchers found some social indicators that were hurting Oklahoma's economy. They mentioned the high divorce rate, high rates of out-of-wedlock births and high rates of child deaths because of child abuse. One OSU economist wrote in an editorial, "Oklahoma's high divorce rate and low per-capita income are interrelated. They hold hands. They push and pull each other. There's no faster way for a married woman with children to become poor than to suddenly become a single mom."
The study prompted the development of a strong social agenda in Oklahoma, which led to the launch of what is now known as the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. About 200 leaders from many different sectors and regions of the state convened for the "Governor and First Lady's Conference on Marriage," a day-long brainstorming session where several keynote speakers presented accumulating evidence of the negative effects of divorce on children and families, and the benefits of marriage for children and adults alike. This information exchange laid the groundwork for widespread interest in the concept of an initiative to promote marriage and reduce divorce. Knowing that the first steps are critical to making a policy plan work, state leaders took steps to ensure that the goal of reducing divorce and strengthening marriage was more than simply a political statement. They:
- Took the bold step of setting a specific, measurable goal - to reduce divorce by one-third by 2010.
- Committed to a community collaboration and broad involvement through a multi-sector strategy.
- Committed significant funding in partnership with the Department of Human Services.
- Provided on-going leadership and operational management to keep marriage on the public agenda.
- Committed to delivering meaningful and relevant services that provide couples with the skills and tools needed to form and sustain healthy relationships.
Governor Keating was aware that his support of a marriage promotion agenda was controversial and would not be immediately popular. At his conference, he stressed that the issue crossed ideological lines. Aware of the sensitivity of the issue, he declared that in holding marriage as an ideal, his intention was not to point the finger of blame at anyone, acknowledging that his own marriage had once been under considerable stress, and he and his wife had sought professional counseling.
As evidence of his serious commitment to this issue, Keating put his Cabinet Secretary for Health and Human Services, Jerry Regier, in charge of developing a plan of action for the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. In addition, Public Strategies, a small public affairs/public relations firm, was awarded a project management bid and, from the beginning, national experts advised various aspects of the Initiative. This leadership outlined the main themes and components of the OMI. They deliberately decided not to appoint a Commission to "study" the issues, nor did they propose a legislative package of reforms. Instead, they decided on a multi-sector approach with both a secular track and a faith-based track. The OMI was to be a public/private partnership, guided by high-level leadership and strong operational, day-to-day management. Its major focus at this initial stage was delivering education services to the public, conducting research, and working with the faith sector to develop marriage-strengthening services.
Initial activities were funded with private foundation monies and discretionary state dollars. Howard Hendrick, Department of Human Services (DHS) Director, pointed out that using TANF monies to fund the initiative fit within the intent of the family formation goals of the 1996 federal welfare reform law. The DHS Board set aside $10 million of undedicated TANF funds for OMI activities. The funds were earmarked primarily for developing marriage-related services, and leaders acknowledged that efforts should be made to make them available to low-income populations.
Thus, the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative was launched and has grown to become the broad-based social service prevention project that it is today. The OMI has made sound decisions-by both policy and political standards-to build on the best research available, to invest in research to learn about marriage and divorce in Oklahoma, and to assess, to the extent possible, the effects of its activities and programs
Public Strategies’ superb products and services continue to be recognized, with the following representing some of the recognition awarded to the firm for OMI projects.
- 2012 ADDY Awards, Oklahoma City Advertising Club, “Gold” – Collateral Material, Four Color Brochure, Thriving Marriages
- 2011 Public Relations Society of America, “Award of Merit” – Branding/Re-Branding Campaign, Thriving Marriages
- 2010 Public Relations Society of America, “Award of Merit” – Publication, Marriage OK!
- 2008 Foster Care and Adoptive Association of Oklahoma, “Champions for Children” – for work serving adoptive couples
- 2007 Public Relations Society of America, “Upper Case Award” -- Radio and TV Script Writing, All About Us
- 2006 “The Essential Piece,” Making the Difference for Domestic Violence Prevention, Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
- 2006 OKDHS Adoption Advocate of the Year
- 2004 Public Relations Society of America, “Award of Merit” – Community Relations Campaign, Community Sweethearts Weekend Series
To contact the OMI, call 405-848-4046 in the Oklahoma City area, or toll-free at 877-435-8033.
3 E. Main Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73102