Father Involvement: Trends, Implications, and Opportunities
(Family and Child Policy)
Saturday, November 14, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Panel Organizers: Cynthia Osborne, University of Texas at Austin
Panel Chairs: Lawrence Berger, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Discussants: Lenna Nepomnyaschy, Rutgers University and Virginia W. Knox, MDRC
This panel explores the topic of father involvement around the time of birth and over the child’s first nine years. Each paper brings a different perspective, and together they draw data from a diverse range of sources, including large longitudinal datasets, statewide longitudinal datasets, and qualitative, open-ended interviews. Despite the differing samples and methods, the papers share a common theme in their recognition of the evolving nature of childrearing and family structure, particularly for low-income men who father children outside of marriage.
In the first paper, Carlson et al. use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to describe levels of father involvement over the nine years following a nonmarital birth. Distinguishing between multiple measures of father involvement, the paper then examines the association between father involvement and child behavioral problems at ages three, five, and nine. Preliminary results point to a negative association between some types of father involvement—namely co-parenting and shared responsibility—and child behavioral problems, underlining the important role that fathers play in moderating or exacerbating broader disparities in social and economic outcomes.
The second paper focuses on an objective and easily measurable proxy for father involvement and paternal social support around the time of the birth—father’s birth attendance. Using multiple waves of a longitudinal birth cohort study conducted in Texas, Osborne, Dillon, and Sexton examine the association between fathers’ birth presence and several indicators of maternal socioemotional wellbeing 15 months after a nonmarital birth. In preliminary analysis, a father’s absence from the birth is significantly associated with increases to maternal depression and parenting stress one year later. This association, however, is largely explained by the extent which fathers are involved, financially supportive, and in a quality relationship with the mother over this period. Together, results highlight the importance of fathers’ birth absence as a signal of elevated risk—especially in view of its observability and usefulness as a point of intervention for the policy and medical communities.
In the third paper, Bellamy and O’Connor note that although many young, unmarried, low-income fathers are involved with their children following the birth, few are engaged with the healthcare system during the perinatal period itself. Considering this a potentially untapped opportunity for parenting interventions, Bellamy and O’Connor interview 20 young, African American and Latino first-time fathers to investigate their experience with perinatal healthcare services. Results suggest that fathers experience mixed levels of engagement with different facets of the medical system, and a general decline in efforts to participate in services over time; a preliminary model of service engagement is developed.
Positioned within the context of a growing trend toward complex and unstable family structures, the papers in this panel help deepen our understanding of father involvement and its implications for mothers and children. Further, they begin to offer ideas for services and interventions that may bring about improved outcomes for the family.