Abstract: Living in Public Housing: A Mother's Childhood Contact with a Father Predicts Offspring's Contact with Their Father (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

Living in Public Housing: A Mother's Childhood Contact with a Father Predicts Offspring's Contact with Their Father

Friday, January 12, 2018: 10:45 AM
Marquis BR Salon 16 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Marquitta Dorsey, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Single mother households are disproportionately represented among public housing

communities, making nonresident father contact even more important for children growing up in these

environments. It is commonly understood that mothers are the primary gatekeepers to a child’s contact

with the father; yet it is unclear in the literature which factors actually inform a mother’s gatekeeping

behavior. A mother’s early paternal experiences may offer some context to her beliefs about her

partner’s contact with the child, particularly if she was raised in a single-mother household amidst the

conditions of public housing. This study examined whether a mother’s early contact with her father

and beliefs about the father’s role would predict her child’s contact with the father.

Methods: Retrospective data were collected using a cross-sectional survey design. The 110-item

questionnaire was administered to a sample of black mothers over age 20 (range 20-74), living in

public housing within an urban community (N=109). A probability, convenience sample was recruited

through flyer distribution and word of mouth, where the mean age was 39.1. Most of the respondents

did not grow up in a home with a father (72%). Over half described their childhood neighborhood as

“awful” or “not too good” (56.4%), and over one third experienced one or both parents incarcerated at

some point during their childhood (38.7%). Most participants (73.4%) shared the belief that the

relationship between a mother and a father is important, as well as a father spending time with their

children (72.7%).

Logistic regression analysis was used to predict offspring’s contact with a father by mother’s

childhood father contact. The model included respondent’s father contact before age 15, offspring’s

contact with a father, and the respondent’s belief in the importance of a father to a child’s life.

Qualitative answers regarding paternal whereabouts were included in the descriptive analysis.

Results: A mother’s early contact with her father and her beliefs about the importance of a father’s

role predicted father’s contact with her child (p< .05). The more satisfied respondents were with their

early father contact, the more likely their child would have more regular contact with their father

(OR=2.8, 95% CI .40,2.2). Compared to mothers less satisfied with their early father contact, mothers

who were more satisfied were also more likely to report fathers as “most important” in a child’s life

(OR=2.3, 95% CI .12, 1.4). Qualitative responses reported paternal incarceration and recent death as

common reasons for no contact.

Implications: Living in public housing may present circumstances that discourage father contact with

a child. However, based on positive childhood experiences with a nonresident father, mothers may

have developed beliefs that encourage a father’s contact with a child. Positive beliefs about a father’s

contact and satisfaction with early father’s contact matters to a mother’s gatekeeping process, despite

environmental factors associated with living in public housing. Future research may consider other

factors related to how and why mothers promote or limit father contact, particularly for mothers who

were dissatisfied with her father’s contact, and mothers with incarcerated partners.