Academic journal article Fathering

The Effect of Depressive Symptoms on Low-Income Men in Responsible Fathering Programs

Academic journal article Fathering

The Effect of Depressive Symptoms on Low-Income Men in Responsible Fathering Programs

Article excerpt

Responsible fathering programs address a range of obstacles to involvement; however, most concentrate on employment and co-parenting to the exclusion of men's mental health needs. Depression not only directly interferes with parent involvement, it also impacts employment and relationships. The goal of this paper was to determine the level of depressive symptoms presented at program intake by 120 men who participated in two different responsible fathering programs, and to examine the relationship between levels of depressive symptoms, other assessed needs, and treatment plans. One-third of the sample expressed clinically high levels of depressive symptoms. Further, both high and medium levels of depressive symptoms were related to other assessed employment, co-parenting, and health needs. Unfortunately this was not reflected in treatment plans. We suggest fathering programs routinely screen participants for mental health needs, and include these results in treatment plans that are both comprehensive and individualized. We further recommend the addition of cognitive behavioral therapeutic elements to fathering programs.

Keywords: fathering programs, depressive symptoms, depression, fathers, men


As a part of welfare reform, the federal government committed to funding programs that promote "responsible fathering" (Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act, 1996), and allowed states the flexibility to fund them through block grants. The primary goal of these fathering programs has been to improve child well-being by increasing low income nonresidential father involvement in three general areas: employment, co-parenting, and health (for a critical review of program goals see Curran, 2003). Although fathering programs are designed to assist with multiple obstacles to father involvement, many have concentrated on men's roles within the family as providers and co-parents, without assessing men's capacity to perform those roles, particularly with reference to mental health.

Depression has well known, close, and complex associations with the focus areas for fathering programs, such as poverty, unemployment, and stressed relationships (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010; Choi & Marks, 2008; Christopher, Pflieger, Canary, Guerrero, & Holtzworth-Munroe, 2008; Jonas, Brody, Roper & Narrow, 2003; Meadows, 2009). Additionally, many fathering programs serve populations at high risk for depression: low income, nonresidential, African-American men. Although depression is less common in men than women, it is more common in African Americans than other ethnic groups, in unmarried and previously married people than married people, is twice as prevalent among the unemployed than the general population, four times more prevalent among those unable to work, and levels increase as education decreases (CDC, 2010). Anderson, Kohler and Letiecq (2005) found that life circumstances of participants in fathering programs, such as unsteady employment, stressed relationships, and poor health predicted high levels of depressive symptoms. Many participants in fathering programs are also African-American men, who may be at greater risk for depression due to both over-representation in low income groups and experiences with discrimination and racism (Watkins, Green, Rivers, & Rowell, 2006; Watkins, Hudson, Caldwell, Seifert & Jackson, 2011). Fathering programs target men who are at high risk for depression, but researchers have not examined the impact of depressive symptoms on program services.

There are no studies that focus on how depression impacts men in fathering programs, how it may relate to other needs that men are trying to address, and how fathering programs deal with the complexity of men's needs. Also, different levels of depressive symptomatology, defined as combinations or groups of depressive symptoms, may have varying effects on participant success in programmatic interventions (Sullivan, Adams, Thibault, Corbiere, & Stanish, 2006). …

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