Abstract: Fatherhood Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

536P Fatherhood Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jonathan Alschech, PhD, PhD, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Stephanie Begun, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background/Purpose: Research on young parents experiencing homelessness (ages 16-24) has most often focused on mothers and pregnant women. The tendency of young homeless fathers to disappear or otherwise decline involvement in pregnancy and in the lives of their biological children has been well documented. However, little is known about how young homeless fathers perceive these situations, perhaps aid in navigating the difficult decision-making involved, and how are youth are supported or constrained by institutional approaches, services, and practitioners’ beliefs about “competent” parenting. Fathers’ involvement in childcare has dramatically increased in recent decades, and is believed to often equate to that of mothers. Yet, this transformation has not yet been fully integrated into many institutional and legal frameworks which still reflect and promote gender-specific conceptions of parenting. Specifically, the notion of fathering as a primarily bread-winning role may serve to discourage young homeless fathers from other important involvement in their children’s lives, especially in instances in which they are not capable of providing for the child economically.

Methods: A scoping review of the literature available in English-language academic journals was conducted so as to map the findings of the existing research and better understand the nature of the gaps in this knowledge base. Then, exploratory qualitative interviews were collected from 13 cisgender men (ages 18-21) who were residing in a large youth-serving shelter in a major North American City. A semi-structured interview guide was developed to engage young men in conversation regarding their perceptions and experiences of pregnancy and fathering, also considering the intersections of such phenomena with unstable housing and homelessness. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and open-coded for emerging themes.

Results and Implications: Findings suggest that young homeless men most often view fathering as solely representing responsibility as a breadwinner, which is thereby primarily conditioned by their access to stable and gainful employment. Respondents expressed that fatherhood is a burden that one either dutifully carries or shamefully (yet commonly) shirks, rather than engages through a lens of self-fulfillment, personal growth, and meaningful achievement. Youth in the sample also conveyed considerable guilt about not being able to “man up” and actively father their biological children, framing the issue in highly individualized terms. These beliefs about fathering, steeped in feelings of guilt and shame, may suggest that encouraging alternative conceptions of competent fathering while young and homeless is an important area of focus for further research, intervention development, and approaches to service provision. This presentation will also discuss opportunities for social workers to contribute to the further development and dissemination of improved supports to help young homeless men to remain actively and positively involved in their children’s lives.