Most experts agree that healthier families could be key to solving many of society's problems — crime, drop-out rates, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and more.
But how can a community strengthen families? Where do you start?
"It's about bringing people together," said Mike Duxler, an associate professor of social work at Newman University and director of the Marriage for Keeps project.
"We're getting researchers, policymakers, first responders and people from all these different areas in one room.... All the right people are going to be in one big tent."
The first Kansas Strengthening Families Summit will take place in Wichita this week — Wednesday at Newman and Thursday at Friends University. It will feature a keynote address by Gov. Sam Brownback and presentations and workshops designed to gather the most effective approaches to making families stronger and healthier.
The summit is the latest chapter in an effort that started more than seven years ago when Duxler and Joyce Webb, director of counseling for Catholic Charities, formed the Kansas Healthy Marriage Institute.
"This affects anybody and everybody," Duxler said. "We all have families. We all come from families. There is nobody that we don't think would be welcome or benefit from attending this summit."
Greg Meissen, founder of Wichita State University's Center for Community Support & Research, said he hopes the summit creates momentum for change, whether it's through policy changes or other initiatives.
"The importance of families has reappeared, even though it's something that has been important for a really long time," said Meissen, a psychology professor at WSU.
"Everyone from the governor down to local policymakers are openly asking for input, which doesn't happen all the time," he said. "We're moving into an era that's about prevention and relationship wellness, and I think people are hungry for how we might do that."
Duxler acknowledged that definitions of family can be varied and controversial, with ongoing debates over gay marriage and similar issues.
"This (summit) is about all groups," he said. "This is single parents, married couples, this is about any configuration. Because people do better when they have healthy relationships."
The summit is being funded entirely from in-kind support from universities and financial contributions from local businesses and nonprofit groups, Duxler said.
Registration for the two-day summit is $45, which includes two lunches and continuing education credits for qualified participants. To register or for more information, visit http://thefamilystrengtheningcoalition.com.