Abstract: A Qualitative Study Exploring Factors That Promote or Hinder Positive Change in Low-Income, Predominately Black Men Voluntarily Participating in Fatherhood Programming (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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A Qualitative Study Exploring Factors That Promote or Hinder Positive Change in Low-Income, Predominately Black Men Voluntarily Participating in Fatherhood Programming

Friday, January 13, 2023
Ahwatukee B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Katie Russell, MSSA, Doctoral Candidate, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Carmen Vernon, Master's Student, Case Western Reserve University
Ashley Withrow, Doctoral student, Case Western Reserve University
Laura A. Voith, PhD, Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Fatherhood initiatives often rely on case management and educational programming to promote positive fathering among low-income men. However, these methods should be tailored to fit the varying strengths and needs of participating fathers. In particular, low-income Black fathers face challenges related to systemic discrimination and structural violence that can hinder their success in relationships. To effectively serve this group, additional research is required to understand strengths and barriers relevant among low-income, predominantly Black men voluntarily engaging in fatherhood programming. Therefore, this study aims to identify key factors promoting or hindering positive change within that population.

This qualitative study utilized virtual focus groups with 8 staff members and 26 fathers voluntarily enrolled in fatherhood programming. The semi-structured focus group questions explored fathers’ personal strengths and barriers specific to the program goals (i.e., engaged fatherhood, healthy relationships, and economic stability), programmatic features promoting positive change in those areas, and potential programmatic areas of improvement. Each focus group was recorded and transcribed verbatim. Thematic analysis was conducted by a three-person coding team (1 masters- and 2 doctoral-trained coders). Each stage of analysis was systematically vetted by another doctoral-trained coder and three Community Scholars (previously incarcerated Black fathers). A thematic coding structure was visually depicted, vetted, and consensus was reached by the entire coding team. Most of the fathers were Black (88.5%), never married (61.5%), employed (61.5%), and had a GED or higher (84.6%). The average participant was 39 years old with two children.

Fathering strengths included empathy, listening skills, and active family participation. Barriers included limited custody/access, individual constraints, and unmet social needs. Participants contextualized these findings with structural issues related to families (e.g., adversarial co-parenting with mother) and the legal system (e.g., biased court systems). Men’s intimate relationship strengths included mutual respect and teamwork. Barriers included past trauma (from imprisonment, childhood abuse, former relationships), lack of healthy relationship models, and relationship strain. Economic stability strengths included financial literacy and motivation to provide, while barriers included legal history, financial obligations, and limited resources. Across all topics, participants reported positive perceptions of psychoeducation and skills training (e.g., communication). Additionally, the cohort model facilitated interpersonal learning and a safe space that built a sense of community and support. Group vulnerability and strong facilitation spurred discussions that challenged self-images of Black masculinity. Developing a sense of empowerment and case management aided engaged fatherhood; positive modeling aided healthy relationships; and career support and financial assistance aided economic stability.

Study findings highlight key factors of fatherhood programming that promote positive change related to engaged fatherhood, healthy relationships, and economic stability, and individual-level strengths and barriers impacting fathers’ success in those areas. Findings are grounded in fathers’ intersectional identities as predominantly low-income Black men with incarceration histories. Various systems (e.g., criminal justice, workplace) work against these men as they aim to engage as fathers, partners, and providers. Programs serving low-income Black fathers with incarceration histories should consider tailoring their curriculum and case management services to the lived experiences of participants to navigate critical barriers and amplify assets for success.