Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16079 Fatherhood Among Young Men Who Aged Out of Foster Care

Friday, January 13, 2012: 2:30 PM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer L. Hook, PhD, Research Scientist, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Mark E. Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose: Federal legislation has been slow to recognize that parenthood is part of the transition to adulthood for youth who age out of foster care. For example, the Fostering Connections Act is silent on the fact that nearly one-third of young men who aged out of care are fathers by age 21 and slightly less than half are fathers by age 24. In order to better understand this complex group of fathers and their children, we analyze a representative longitudinal survey of young people as they age out of foster care and transition to adulthood. We consider factors that put fathers at risk for less involvement and factors that may make fathers more resilient despite their early exposure to adversity.

Method: Using Waves 1 through 4 of the Midwest Study, we address three questions. 1) How are young men's characteristics and experiences associated with timing of parenthood? We predict age at first birth using characteristics available at the Wave 1 interview when youth were 17 or 18 (N = 292). We use multinomial logistic regression to compare three groups of young men those having a first child at age (a) 15 to 17, (b) 18 to 20, and (c) 21 to 23 to a fourth group of men not having a child by the age of 24. 2) What are the characteristics of fathers who have aged out of care? We compare three groups of fathers including resident fathers, more involved non-resident fathers, and less involved non-resident fathers (N = 121). 3) Which fathers are more likely to be more involved with their children? We use multilevel multinomial regression to predict group membership, comparing resident fathers to less involved non-resident fathers and more involved non-resident fathers. Because fathers may have different levels of involvement with different children we analyze this at the child level, with children nested within fathers (N = 189). We use baseline and contemporaneous measures of fathers' characteristics and experiences.

Results and Implications: About 50% of young men reached age 24 without knowingly fathering a child, whereas 6% of young men fathered a child from ages 15 to 17, another 16% between 18 and 20, and an additional 24% between 21 and 23. Overall, 61% of fathers report having a non-resident child. Young men who are sexually active at age 15 or younger (two-thirds of young men) have a greater risk of having a child by age 17 and by age 20, compared to young men who delay first intercourse to age 16 or higher. Young men are also at greater risk if they were retained in grades one through eight (one-third of young men) and if they report coming from a home where a caregiver had a criminal record (one-third of young men). Individually these characteristics are risk factors; combined they help us identify groups of youth at particularly high risk for early parenthood. Research findings highlight the need for policies that promote healthier transitions to parenthood for young men leaving foster care.

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