The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Identifying New and Expectant Fathers' Supports and Challenges to Prevent Child Exposure to Domestic Violence

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 4:00 PM
Marina 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Juliana M. Carlson, AM, Doctoral Candidate, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St Paul, MN
Jeffrey L. Edleson, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, CA
Ericka Kimball, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St Paul, MN
Background & Purpose: Research studies documenting the transition to fatherhood increased significantly over the last 20 years, while at the same time studies on child exposure to domestic violence (CEDV) have also been building evidence to define it (Edleson, 2006; Fantuzzo & Mohr, 1999) and determine how pervasive it is (Finkelhor et al., 2009). Early exposure to domestic violence has been found to be a major risk factor for problems later in life (Whitehead et al., 2003; Yates et al., 2003). While CEDV is a critical issue for social workers in a variety of fields, research that connects interventions and policies to directly engage new and expectant fathers in preventing CEDV is limited. With primary prevention of CEDV as a long-term goal, this study aimed to examine the supports and challenges for new and expectant fathers, as well as what kind of formal support interventions would be desired.

Method: Father and mother participants who had at least one child under the age of five took part in eight focus groups. Six focus groups were conducted with fathers (N=47) and two with mothers (N=8) at four different community organizations. All focus groups were recorded and transcribed verbatim, and then analyzed thematically by two coders using the systematic data analysis process for focus groups (Krueger & Casey, 2009) and a constant comparative framework (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to develop matrices to identify themes in the data.

Results: Analysis of focus group data produced information about the form and content of support that men would like to receive as well as barriers to receiving support during the early stages of pregnancy and their child’s life.  The supports that fathers found most useful included: (a) informal familial support that was both proximal and emotionally centered, (b) encouraging and advice oriented support from other fathers in both formal group settings and informal interpersonal relationships, and (c) formal programmatic support whose content was both welcoming to men and father-centered.  The prominent barriers to support for fathers that emerged were maternal and societal gatekeeping that inhibited opportunities to parent, and limited availability of and/or access to formal supports with father specific programming.  Socioeconomic status, prior exposure to parenting support programming, and the nature of the relationship with a child’s mother were factors that influenced how participants experienced each barrier. Almost all of the fathers (96%) indicated they would participate in face to face support group with other fathers, while (63%) would participate in online group.

Conclusions & Implications:  This study illustrates the complex way in which supports and challenges during the transition to fatherhood are experienced by different fathers, depending on employment, social location, and co-habitation with mother and therefore their infant.  Social workers increased awareness of how fathers may differently experience the transition to fatherhood can lead to developing more tailored, father friendly practice models and systems.  In addition, by focusing on engaging new and expectant fathers, social work advances the primary prevention of CEDV.