Academic journal article Fathering

Preferences and Perceptions about Getting Support Expressed by Low-Income Fathers

Academic journal article Fathering

Preferences and Perceptions about Getting Support Expressed by Low-Income Fathers

Article excerpt

This report examines the perspectives of fathers of low-income children about their needs and resources for support to help them with their parenting responsibilities. The data are taken from open-ended, qualitative

interviews of 575 men as part of a comprehensive study of fathers related to the Early Head Start Longitudinal Study. The interviews, taken when the father or father figure's child was 24 months of age, asked fathers about the barriers they experienced to fathering, about the sources of support or help they had available, and about supports they thought might be useful. The transcripts were analyzed using a constant comparison method to create a coding structure and coded using NUD*IST software. The primary barrier discussed by fathers was the difficulty of juggling work and other time demands, and their time for fathering. A number of fathers said there were no barriers and furthermore said they did not want any help or support. Fathers described their primary sources of support as their spouse or partner, their own parents (especially their mothers), and their own internal resources (e.g., motivation, patience). Themes fathers discussed related to Early Head Start included (a) direct supports to fathers for parenting or concrete supports (e.g., employment, social services); (b) indirect supports to their child's mother; and (c) no supports perceived. Implications for Early Head Start father involvement programs are discussed.

Keywords: fathers, father involvement, Early Head Start, father support services


Over the past decade there has been an increasing policy emphasis on encouraging greater involvement of fathers in the lives of their children, the result of research findings associating father involvement with positive school outcomes for older children (Fagan & Iglesias, 1999; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994), child support enforcement provisions in the 1996 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Act (45 CFR 302, 2003), and advocacy by fathers themselves for policies that enable them to have a greater role in their children's lives (, 2003;, 2003).

Responses to this policy emphasis have led to more services intended to enhance father involvement with their children. Key among them has been the emphasis on father involvement in Early Head Start. While Head Start itself has for many years encouraged father or father-figure involvement in both the program and in the lives of their children (Head Start Information and Publication Center, 2001; Administration for Children, Youth and Families, 2000), Early Head Start, serving families with children under age three since 1996, has explicitly emphasized support, goal-setting, and education for fathers under the umbrella of its two-generation (child and parent) services (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1994; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Targeting fathers follows findings that more men are involved in young, low-income children's lives than previously thought. For example, while only 35% of the infants and toddlers in the Early Head Start national study lived with a resident biological father married to the child's mother, just under 90% had regular contact with a father or father figure (Administration on Children and Families, 2002). Early Head Start may also be a logical program to provide supports to fathers, as recent studies suggest that fathers are more likely to be present at birth than during any other period of the child's life (Mincy & Oliver, 2003). The Administration on Children, Youth, and Families has responded to these findings by funding fatherhood support demonstration programs for Early Head Start (Administration for Children, Youth and Families, 2000).

We are learning something about the range of supports offered to fathers in Early Head Start programs. For example, Raikes, Boiler, Vankammen, and Summers (2002) conducted a study of 261 Early Head Start programs concerning father involvement. …

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