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

17113 Paternal Involvement In Low-Income Families At Palm Beach County Social Services

Friday, January 13, 2012: 3:30 PM
Constitution D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Erna Dinata, PhD, Researcher, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Julie Spielberger, PhD, Research Fellow, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Jennifer L. Bellamy, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: The association between fathers and indicators of child well being is established (Gray & Anderson, 2010; Sigle-Rushton & McLanahan, 2004; McKeown, 1998; Palkovits, 2002). Current research is now focused on exploring the mechanisms by which the quality of paternal involvement impacts families and children (Palkovitz, 2002; Parke & Brott, 1999; Pleck, 1997; Lamb, 1997). The purpose of the study is to capture the complexity of paternal involvement, that reflects the diverse backgrounds, perceptions, and experiences of male caregivers from their own perspectives across: (1) family routines and activities (2) parenting beliefs, and (3) formal and informal support experiences.

Methods: The sample of male caregivers was drawn from a 6-year longitudinal survey of service use experiences of families with young children. In the primary study, annual in-person and telephone interviews were conducted with 531 mothers of newborn children. A convenience sample of 16 English- and Spanish-speaking biological fathers, social fathers (e.g., partners, friends of mothers) and paternal kin (e.g., grandparents, uncles) of the focal child was drawn from the thirty mothers interviewed in depth in the fifth wave (2009). A 60-90 minute semi-structured, open-ended interview protocol was employed.

The process of developing themes and sub-themes were derived from repeating ideas found in the text through multiple readings discussed in meetings with the research team. The Atlas.ti software program was utilized to facilitate the analysis. Top-down elaborative coding, as a process of analyzing textual data that begins with theoretical constructs drawn from prior studies of paternal involvement (Auerbach & Silverstein, 2003), guided the analyses.

Results: Similar patterns of activities and routines between male caregivers and target child are detected across structural and demographic backgrounds. More complex patterns of activities were identified between male caregiver and the mother of the child. While the fathers and mothers shared family responsibilities, childcare and chores, the quality of their involvements varied by the fathers' work schedule, residential status, and the child's special needs.

Data on parenting beliefs and child rearing practices highlights the impacts of fathers' personal spiritual beliefs, their experiences in their family of origin, beliefs about ideal fatherhood, and current experiences with parenting practices and challenges. In addition, the findings describe the various sources of assistance with both mothers' and fathers' parenting problems and needs. The fathers' level of openness and reflection on parenting emerges as a critical factor. Fathers' experiences of help seeking efforts and barriers to accessing formal and informal support are illustrated through their shared perspectives. Challenges related to immigration status such as language difficulties and cultural differences are prominent. Barriers related to a lack of knowledge of child custody and how to access various formal support systems are key findings as well.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings demonstrate that paternal involvement is a multifaceted concept that reflects an ongoing set of decisions that have behavioral, cognitive, and affective components as well as developmental consequences for both fathers and children. It also highlights the complex context of individual, family, and systemic factors that impact these processes.

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