Abstract: "It's Going to be Tough at First": Black Nonresident Fathers and Involvement Following Family-Trauma (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

"It's Going to be Tough at First": Black Nonresident Fathers and Involvement Following Family-Trauma

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Qiana Cryer-Coupet, PhD, Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University, NC
Janiya Starr Gibens, Student, North Carolina State University
Background and Purpose

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, family traumas “are frightening, often life-threatening, or violent events that can happen to any or all members of a family...[that] can cause traumatic stress responses in family members with consequences that ripple through family relationships and impede optimal family functioning” (NCTSN, n.d.). For many families, these events occur in the context of parental incarceration, experiences of homelessness, and/or as a result of parental substance use disorders. For Black fathers in the United States, these family traumas are often compounded by structural racism, which leads to more intense negative sequelae. Prolonged separation is one such consequence. As scholars refine our understanding of Black fathers’ parenting experiences, it is important to examine the factors that impact the parenting behaviors of nonresident fathers following family-trauma.


Twenty-five self identified, Black, nonresident fathers, participated in either a focus group or semi-structured individual interview, which ranged in length from 60-90 minutes. Fathers were recruited in local child support offices, barbershops, gyms, fatherhood programs, community agencies and via sponsored ads on Facebook. Each father was compensated $25 for his time. The focus groups and interviews were video and/or audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Two project team members attended each focus group or interview, serving as the facilitator or note taker. Data were coded and analyzed by four team members, two Black women, one Black man, and one White woman. The Hoover-Dempsey-Sandler (1997) framework of parental involvement was selected to guide our interpretation of the data. Based on this framework, we conducted a directed content analysis (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).


Fathers identified two internal motivational beliefs as determinants of their involvement following a family-trauma. These included fathers’ paternal role construction, defined by their beliefs about what they should do and who they should be in the context of rearing their children. This was often juxtaposed with fathers’ descriptions of paternal self-efficacy, defined by their ability to carry out the role(s) they constructed for themselves. Fathers’ motivation was also determined by their perceptions of invitations for involvement from other members of the family system. These invitations included requests from their children, and/or requests from their coparent(s) or other relatives. Lastly, fathers noted that their involvement following family-trauma was also impacted by their current life context. This included factors such as fathers’ beliefs about the time and energy they had available to parent their child(ren), beliefs about having the necessary knowledge to navigate the sequelae of trauma, and their perceptions of barriers to involvement related to system involvement or negative family relationships.

Conclusions and Implications

Overall, the nonresident fathers who participated in the current study expressed a desire to have heighted roles in the lives of their children. However, they also expressed not being fully prepared to do so following experiences with substance use, incarceration, and homelessness. Many of the fathers’ perceived barriers to involvement were related to negative relationships with social systems, and subsequently strained family relationships. Implications for future research and practice will be discussed.