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

40P Strengthening Relationship Quality and Father Involvement Among Urban American Indians

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jonathan R. Padilla, BA, Research Assistant, Brigham Young University, Orem, UT
Gordon Limb, PhD, Director, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Background and Purpose: Scholars have declared the father's physical absence from the home as one of America's greatest social problems (Dudley & Stone, 2001). Family systems theory indicates improvement in the relationship quality of the birth parents will likely increase a father's involvement with his children (Belsky, 1981). While the impact of unmarried parents on children is a concern generally, it is even more problematic for certain groups of color. In 2006 nearly 50% of American Indian children lived in single-parent households (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2008). However, few studies have examined the impact of unmarried fatherhood regarding American Indian families, particularly those living in an urban setting. Our goal is two-fold: (1) provide insight into the association between relationship quality and paternal engagement of urban American Indian men relative to the general population and (2) increase awareness relating to American Indian paternal involvement and it implications on urban American Indian families.

Methods: We used information provided by fathers who participated in the first two waves of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) for our analysis. The FFCWS is a national, longitudinal study that follows children born in 20 US cities, with populations over 200,000, first beginning in 1998 and 2000 (Reichman, Teitler, Garfinkel, & McLanahan, 2001). For this analysis, relationship quality was operationalized as social engagement and emotional supportiveness—each were assessed at Time 1 shortly after the birth of the child. These measures of relationship quality were then used to predict the father's active and passive engagement with their child at Time 2 when the child was approximately one year old. We conducted the analysis via structural equation modeling, utilizing multiple groups and controlling for the amount of time the mother and father co-resided.

Results: The analyzed model provided adequate fit to the data, χ˛ = 129.30, df = 47, p < .001; CFI = .99; RMSEA = .03, 90% CI [.02 to .03]; and SRMR = .02. Model results indicated the two dimensions of relationship quality were positively related to a father's involvement with his child across races. However, while the overall trend was similar for the general population and American Indians, there were key differences in the strength of the relationships. Model results indicated that relationship quality is a more salient factor in father engagement of American Indian men than it is for fathers in the general population, particularly regarding the emotional supportiveness of the mother.

Conclusions and Implications: The child engagement level of American Indian fathers appeared to be influenced by a combination of social engagement and emotional supportiveness. However, for fathers in the general population it appeared social engagement was the key aspect of relationship quality in a father's engagement with his child. Our findings indicate, within a family systems framework, practitioners seeking to increase American Indian father involvement should utilize culturally sensitive supports that enhance the partners' shared social engagement and emotional supportiveness of the mother.