Abstract: The Link between Incarceration and Fatherhood Among Young Men Transitioning from Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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The Link between Incarceration and Fatherhood Among Young Men Transitioning from Foster Care

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Ahwatukee A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Svetlana Shpiegel, PhD, Associate Professor, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ
Elizabeth Aparicio, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, MD
Background and Purpose: Young men transitioning from foster care are at higher risk for early fatherhood and criminal justice involvement as compared to their peers in the general population. However, the longitudinal relationships between these two outcomes are not well understood. The purpose of the present study was to examine the reciprocal relationships between fatherhood and incarceration among this vulnerable population.

Methods: Data and Samples: This study was based on a longitudinal analysis of data from the second cohort of the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD, FY 2014). The sample consisted of 2,793 young men transitioning from foster care nationwide who completed three NYTD surveys at ages 17, 19, and 21. Measurement: At each time point, youth reported on their fatherhood status and incarceration histories, as well as additional outcomes such as education, employment, homelessness, and substance abuse referrals. Analysis: First, we constructed two variables representing youths` fatherhood status – one for fatherhood before age 19, and the other for fatherhood between ages 19-21. We also constructed two incarceration variables for these young men – one before age 19, and the other between ages 19-21. Then, we estimated two logistic regression models to examine the reciprocal relationships between fatherhood and incarceration over time. The first model examined incarceration by age 19 as the primary predictor of fatherhood between ages 19-21. The second model examined fatherhood by age 19 as the primary predictor of incarceration between ages 19-21. Both models accounted for participants` race/ethnicity, foster care status, educational and vocational attainment, and homelessness and substance abuse referrals reported at age 19. Youths` prior histories of incarceration and fatherhood (i.e., by age 19) were also accounted for in the relevant analyses.

Results: About 6% of youth became fathers by age 19, and 13% became fathers between ages 19-21. Moreover, about 41% of youth experienced incarceration by age 19, and 25% experienced incarceration between ages 19-21. Findings from binary logistic regression analyses revealed that controlling for youths` race/ethnicity and all other variables described above, fatherhood by age 19 was unrelated to incarceration between ages 19-21. By contrast, incarceration by age 19 was significantly associated with becoming a father between ages 19-21 (OR=1.96, p<.001).

Conclusions and Implications: Among young men transitioning from foster care, fatherhood and incarceration frequently co-occur, which may negatively impact their young children. Our analyses suggest that incarceration may increase the likelihood of subsequent fatherhood, though the reasons for this relationship should be evaluated in future research. Providing services and supports to young fathers to prevent criminal justice involvement, and educating young men who engage in risky behaviors on the importance of family planning, are critical for this vulnerable population.