UF/IFAS gets $5 million to help families strengthen relationships

Image used in the 2013 IFAS Extension Calendar.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — About 160,000 people got divorced in 2014 in Florida, according to the state Department of Health. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension faculty have received a new $5 million grant to try to make sure people maintain healthy relationships and perhaps lower that number a bit.

Under the grant guidelines, Victor Harris, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences, and Extension faculty and staff for the SMART Couples Florida project will teach people how to strengthen their relationships over the next five years.

This UF/IFAS Extension program is geared toward married, remarried, at-risk youth, those getting ready for marriage, parents and active military and veteran couples and will include those who are low-income, low-resource, those with substance abuse problems, mental health issues, and histories of domestic violence and child-abuse issues.

Many participants will be referred to the program by local community agencies, organizations and partners. Some of these include CareerSource, child support services, health departments and schools.

“If people come to the partners and they say they need help, they can be referred to UF/IFAS Extension,” Harris said. “This is a more holistic way to deal with Extension and with people in general.”

They started the program in July, and will spend five years in Citrus, Duval, Manatee, Palm Beach and Santa Rosa counties. These counties were chosen because they represent a rural and urban cross-section of Florida’s demographics, Harris said. The team plans to help strengthen relationships across income groups and ethnicities, and they hope to expand beyond those counties after five years.

Extension faculty and staff will deliver programs at county Extension offices or other community locations that will meet participant needs. A list of those Extension offices can be found by clicking on: http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/map/index.shtml.

When participants arrive at these sites, they will take a federal online intake survey and a UF/IFAS survey to contribute to ongoing relationship research. And, an additional assessment will be offered to assess whether other community resources are needed.

Extension faculty and other staff will use the following curriculum to teach the four relationship education programs. They are called:


  • Relationship Smarts PLUS 3.0: A fun program designed to help teens learn how to set goals and make wise choices about relationships, dating, partners and more.


  • Before You Tie the Knot: A premarital program for couples who are striving to start their marriages on the right foot.


  • ELEVATE: A program for couples – dating cohabiting, engaged or married – who want to improve their communication skills and strengthen their relationships.


  • Smart Steps: A stepfamily program designed to strengthen relationships between remarried or re-partnered couples and their children.


“We’ve covered the spectrum of the kinds of relationships you can have,” said Harris. “That’s what we’re offering in these five counties, face-to-face.”

For more information, please visit www.smartcouples.org.


By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Victor Harris, 352-273-3523, victorharris@ufl.edu


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Posted: November 3, 2016

Category: UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, Work & Life
Tags: Family

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