Kathryn Edin is a leading voice within the Partnership on the roles that family stability and the period of adolescent development can play in influencing mobility from poverty. During the 2017 Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture at Brigham Young University, she described ideas she developed over decades of research and has been refining within the Partnership.
Edin identifies two trends challenging the economic prospects of low-income families in the United States. The first is instability. Forty-two percent of children are born into non-marital relationships. More than four in 10 of these children will see one of their parents re-partner at least twice. Nearly one-quarter will see three or more parental transitions.
The high rate of re-partnering leads to family complexity as children become part of larger, shifting networks of adults, half-siblings, and step-siblings. Together, instability and complexity can weaken father-child bonds, create stress during crucial years of child development, and limit the financial investments parents can make in their children.
Edin proposes two things to support more stable family environments. The first is a dual approach that gives young people the means to plan when they form families with tools like long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). This is the how in the family-planning process. She pairs the how with programs that help adolescents develop their own reasons for why they should wait. Edin describes these programs with an acronym she credits Partnership executive director Nisha Patel for coining: SPARKS (Supportive Pathways for Adolescents through Recreation, Knowledge, and School). The best of these activities, says Edin, instill a strong sense of meaning and identity in adolescents.
Edin is also leading the Partnership’s work to develop proposals designed to aid in the ongoing transformation of the child support system from a cost-recovery program for government into a family-building institution. A key component is removing the onerous sanctions that can undermine noncustodial fathers’ ability to provide for their children and be part of their lives.