Young Dads: The Effects of a Parenting Program on Urban African-American Adolescent Fathers

Article excerpt

During the last two decades, the child welfare field has focused increased attention on the needs of adolescent parents. The term "adolescent parents," however, has frequently been a euphemism for "teenage mothers." As a result of the Adolescent Health, Services and Pregnancy Act of 1978, adolescent maternity and mother-baby programs grew throughout the U.S. Yet despite the number of programs available, few of them concern themselves with adolescent fathers. Adolescent males were to be offered only one service: information regarding pregnancy prevention. This highlights the fact that adolescent fathers are frequently neglected both as potential resources to their children as well as clients with their own unmet needs.

The purpose of this study was to measure the impact of individualized social work intervention with African-American adolescent fathers. The study also focused on whether adolescent fathers responded differently to interventions focused on "adolescent issues" rather than only on being a "father."

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

Adolescent Fathers

Prior to 1960, little was written about single parenthood, let alone on unwed adolescent paternity. Vincent (1961) found that for every 25 studies on unwed mothers, only one was on unwed fathers. Yet the 1950s saw a dramatic increase in the number of adolescent pregnancies. A few studies were completed on unwed paternity in the 1960s (Caughlan, 1960; Perkins & Grayson, 1968; Pannor, 1968).

The early literature states that unwed paternity, in itself, should not be thought of as proof of "pathology," rather it should be seen as a point of stress (Caughlan, 1960). Perkins and Grayson's (1968) study of adolescent males in a juvenile detention center found that three quarters lived in single-parent female-headed households; felt deserted by their own fathers; expressed some obligation to marry the girls, not out of love, but to keep their children from growing up "hating" them; and felt "self-hatred" for their status as unwed fathers. Pannor (1968) studied 94 unwed fathers who ranged in age from 15 to 52 years, and findings reflected both judgmental and objective assessments of the fathers. Among the findings were: refusing to use contraceptives was "indicative of the fathers' immaturity"; "unmarried fathers lacked a strong masculine identity"; "unmarried mothers knew the names of the fathers"; "unmarried fathers were able to function adequately in a controlled society"; "younger fathers did not nec essarily display delinquent behavior"; and "when unmarried fathers continued to be involved with the mothers, both the fathers and mothers were more able to realistically plan for the baby's future" (Pannor, 1968, pp. 48-49).

African-American Adolescent Fathers

Hendricks (1981) categorized 8 sets of problems that unwed adolescent African-American fathers encountered throughout their adolescent years: providing financial support for the children; relationships with the children's mothers; relationships with the mothers' families as well as their own; being restricted in their freedom resulting from the needs of the children; attending and completing school; employment; coping with the physical and emotional demands of being fathers; and responsibilities inherent in setting a good example for the children. As a result of fatherhood, adolescent males, including African-American males, enter the workplace earlier than their peers (Hendricks, 1981; Pirot-Good, 1995). However, they are more likely not to complete high school and thus earn less than their peers when they reach their mid-twenties (Pirot-Good, 1996). Despite these problems, most unwed adolescent fathers view their parenthood as a positive opportunity for growth and development (Allen & Doherty, 1996; Hendric ks, 1981; Miller, 1997; Wade, 1994).

Urban African-American adolescent fathers, by definition, are hindered by historical limitations. …