Academic journal article Social Work

The Effects of Nonresident Father Involvement on Single Black Mothers and Their Young Children

Academic journal article Social Work

The Effects of Nonresident Father Involvement on Single Black Mothers and Their Young Children

Article excerpt

Using data from an ongoing study of current and former welfare recipients and their preschool children, the study discussed in this article examined the influence of the presence of nonresident fathers on the well-being and development of 188 low-income, employed and nonemployed single black mothers and their three-and four-year-old children. There is evidence that involvement by nonresident fathers has positive effects on maternal depression symptoms and child problem behaviors. The data show that maternal employment status seems to affect nonresident fathers' relations with single black mothers and their young children. It also seems to make a difference in the mothers' psychological well-being. Policy implications are discussed.

Key words: African Americans; children; fathers; single mothers; stress; well-being

Relations between black fathers and their children have become an issue of public concern because children in families headed by single black women have extraordinarily high rates of poverty (McLanahan, 1997; Wilson, 1996). Furthermore, single mothers who are employed rarely earn enough to bring their families out of poverty (Edin & Lein, 1997), and there is a high likelihood that child support, the most common means by which economic resources are transferred from non-resident fathers to their children, will not be awarded to black mothers (Teachman, 1990).

Largely neglected in the discourse about the parental responsibilities of black nonresident fathers, however, are factors other than economic contributions that might affect the well-being of low-income black children. This article investigates various effects of nonresident fathers' presence on children's well-being and development. It also explores the issue of whether the quality of the nonresident father-mother relationship has consequences for low-income employed and nonemployed single black mothers. Data gathered for the first wave of an ongoing study of current and former welfare recipients were examined to see whether mothers and children who maintain a relationship with nonresident fathers are better off on indicators of well-being and development than mothers and children who do not. Variations between employed and nonemployed mothers are important because policymakers often view poor and nearpoor black families headed by single women as a monolith. The recent welfare reform, for example, places time limits on welfare receipt and imposes harsh penalties on poor single mothers who are unable to ward off poverty by low-wage work. Single black mothers are disproportionately poor (Wilson, 1996). Moreover, because fathers and mothers influence each other's parenting in married-couple families (Belsky, 1981; Belsky & Vondra, 1989), it is plausible that the nonresident father-mother relationship might influence children in single-parent families through its effects on mothers.

In an effort to shed further light on these issues, this study addresses three questions: (l) Is the presence of the nonresident father related to mothers' psychological well-being and children's behavioral functioning? (2) Is employment status important for the psychological well-being and parenting of single black mothers? (3) Do the effects of nonresident fathers' involvement differ for employed and nonemployed mothers and their children?

Informed by theories of risk and resilience, this study adopts an individual difference approach. Indeed, resilience is the term used in the psychological literature to describe the role of individual differences in people's response to stress and hardship (McLoyd, 1990; Rutter, 1987; Spencer, 1990). The risk and vulnerability model holds that particular children or groups of children are at risk for decrements in wellbeing, due to harsh environmental conditions that include parental characteristics, parental beliefs and attitudes, and parental resources (Brooks-Gunn, 1990; Garmezy & Rutter, 1983). …

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