Abstract: Father Engagement and Positive Co-Parenting: The Role of Informal Support (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Father Engagement and Positive Co-Parenting: The Role of Informal Support

Friday, January 18, 2019: 2:15 PM
Union Square 22 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Lara Markovitz, LMSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Patricia Kohl, PhD, Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: National responsible fatherhood initiatives serve to decrease child poverty and increase positive father involvement among the increasing number of children living apart from their fathers. While these programs are intended to promote both child support enforcement and father engagement, the emphasis of these programs continues to be on enforcement and collection of arrears. This approach has contributed to gaps in understanding the types of support provided by fathers, and the father and family characteristics that influence positive father engagement and co-parenting relationships. Despite financial strain, low-income non-resident fathers have been shown to provide substantial informal financial support in place of or in addition to court ordered support. In fact, 60% of custodial parents receive in-kind contributions. However, data about the frequency and type of contributions are sparse. Furthermore, little is known about the mechanisms by which family and father characteristics and the provision of support influence the decrease in father engagement and positive co-parenting relationships over time, particularly after a child turns five years old. Without rigorous analysis of the types and value of contributions provided by fathers over time, these contributions cannot be integrated into ameliorative strategies to address provision of child support.

Methods: Using regression analysis, we conducted cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from an Administration for Children and Families funded randomized control trial being conducted through a partnership between the Fathers’ Support Center of St. Louis and the Brown School Evaluation Center at Washington University in St. Louis. The analytic sample was composed of primarily African American, non-resident fathers (n=327). The vast majority (78.65%) of the fathers in our sample were under-or unemployed, with 61.46% reporting income of less than $500 within the past 30 days.

Results: Provision of informal support alone has a statistically significant negative association with gatekeeping (coefficient, -2.81, SE, .63, P<0.001).The provision of informal support in addition to court ordered support was strongly correlated with decreased gatekeeping (coeff=-2.55, 0.008). In addition, court ordered support only was significantly associated with increased gatekeeping (coefficient, 2.02, SE, .52, P<0.001). Statistically significant positive relationship between provision of informal support alone and co-parenting alliance (coefficient, 5.43, SE, .93, P<0.0001). However, court ordered provision of support was not statistically significant. Statistically significant relationship between informal support and decreased undermining (coefficient, -1.92, SE, .57, P<0.01), while payment of court ordered support was not statistically significant. Provision of informal in addition to court ordered support was not statistically significant.

Conclusions and Implications: These types of contributions may serve as an important buffer among families with irregular and insufficient income, helping them become increasingly self-sufficient over time. Our sample bears important similarities to participants in national fatherhood initiatives. Therefore, our findings will inform targeted father involvement policies that promoteevidence-based incorporation of these types of support into child support policy.