Examining Young Men's Experiences With Medical Services At and Around the Birth of Their First Child
Although fathers play an important role in families, and fathering is consistently linked to child well-being, existing research suggests that fathers are not often successfully engaged in clinical services during pregnancy, birth and infancy. Research also indicates that the vast majority of new fathers (including low-income, young, unmarried, and non-residential fathers) are involved with their families at and around the birth of a child. Therefore, clinical health encounters provided around the birth of a child represent untapped opportunities to deliver health and parenting interventions to these young men and potentially improve outcomes for children.
A review of the existing literature reveals that little is known about what accounts for the frequency and quality of fathers’ participation in medical services in general. Even less is known about the experiences of young African American fathers who are partnered with young mothers. Families that include young parents are at particular risk for certain poor health and well-being outcomes (e.g. low birth weight children and child maltreatment). The increased risk shouldered by this population, coupled with their unique developmental needs, highlights the importance of research that focuses specifically on this population.
The aim of this study is to explore young, low-income, African American, first time fathers’ opinions about their experience with medical services before, during, and after the birth of their first child. A total of 15 African American men between the ages of 15 and 24 participated in one of three 90 minute focus groups and completed a brief (5 minute) demographic questionnaire. The aim of the analysis was to inform the design and development of a larger follow-up study by exploring first time fathers’ engagement with the medical service system and the impact of those experiences on them and their young families. The focus groups questions were centered on experiences with medical services provided around the birth of their first child (e.g. prenatal care, birth and delivery, and well baby check ups).
Results of this study suggest that a variety of factors impact fathers’ participation in medical services immediately before, during and after the birth of their child. These factors are explored at multiple ecological levels including: the medical service system, community, family and individual levels. Fathers described mixed experiences at each level. A preliminary framework for understanding these processes is proposed by the study team to organize our current understanding of the intersections between entrée into fatherhood and medical service engagement for young African American men using these qualitative data and a review of the existing literature.
This study only begins to examine the experiences of young African American fathers. These findings hint at potential opportunities for interventions with these young men to support positive parenting and strengthen their families’ relationship with the medical service system. The results suggest areas for further exploration and the need for follow-up research that can longitudinally track fathers as they interact with the clinical service system using a larger, more representative sample of fathers.