Poster Paper: Head Start & Nonresident Father Involvement

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Alexandra Haralampoudis1, Louis Donnelly2 and Lenna Nepomnyaschy1, (1)Rutgers University, (2)Princeton University

Head Start has made explicit commitments to enhance fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives. However, father involvement initiatives within Head Start programs confront the challenges associated with rapidly transforming living arrangements of children. Fathers are increasingly less likely to be married to or reside with their child’s mother. These demographic changes have been especially apparent among the low-income families Head Start serves. As such, more than half of children who participate in Head Start do not live with their father.

Contrary to earlier stereotypes, recent studies indicate that low-income nonresident fathers are generally not absent from their children’s lives. These fathers are frequently engaged in the lives of their children, though engagement often declines as children grow older. Moreover, a growing body of work suggests that multiple forms of involvement of nonresident fathers (especially financial support) promote child learning and development, therefore mitigating some of the disadvantages associated with poverty and single parenthood. Together, these studies suggest that nonresident fathers are a vital target for engagement by Head Start programs, and that gains in nonresident father involvement are likely to improve child outcomes. However, prior research has largely focused on mothers’ parenting and their involvement with children as a key to improving learning, often to the neglect of the “other parent” – fathers.

This study uses secondary data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study to examine the association between Head Start participation and non-resident father involvement. Fragile Families is a birth cohort study, representative of urban births. Baseline interviews with the mother and father occurred following their child’s birth between 1998 and 2000, and follow-up interviews were conducted at child ages 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15. Fragile Families is particularly suited to this analysis, due to its oversampling of non-marital births (3:1 ratio) and the rich data available on nonresident father involvement. Among the nearly 1700 families with a nonresident father at age 1, we have identified 230 Head Start participants.

Our outcomes of interest include measures of fathers’ parenting quantity (e.g. number of days seen) and quality (e.g. harsh discipline, reads to child), as well as his material contributions (formal and informal cash and in-kind support) as reported by the mother and father at ages 5, 9 and 15. We will also examine factors that could either moderate or mediate the association between Head Start and fathers’ parenting, including mother’s encouragement or discouragement of father’s involvement and father’s employment, re-partnering, and distance from the child.

Additionally, given evidence from prior research that suggests that these effects vary based on the construction of the counterfactual, we will examine Head Start compared to all other likely eligible children, Head Start in comparison to other types of child care arrangements, and using propensity score matching. If the Head Start parental engagement model is effective, children who participate in the program, including children who do not live with their fathers, are expected to benefit from sustained or enhanced paternal involvement over time.