Academic journal article Social Work

Involvement of African American Fathers in Kinship Foster Care Services

Academic journal article Social Work

Involvement of African American Fathers in Kinship Foster Care Services

Article excerpt

The foster care population in the United States has increased considerably in recent years, from approximately 276,000 in 1985 to 468,000 in 1995. The number and percentage of African American children in this population also has risen substantially. Although complete national data on racial composition are not available, a 1996 study using data from 20 states, including the most populous, found that 46.8 percent of 306,914 foster children were African American, up from 39 percent reported in a similar study in 1990. This percentage is higher than that of any other racial or ethnic group (U.S. House of Representatives, 1996). In addition, several studies of local and state-level foster care have found that African American children remain longer in placement than white children by an average of as much as two years (Courtney et al., 1996).

To prevent the unnecessary placement or retention of African American children in foster care and to meet the long-term psychosocial needs of those who must remain in care, social services staff must identify and develop all resources available to them. One potential resource is the child's biological father. Nevertheless, very little is known about the involvement of African American fathers in services on behalf of their children. Social work literature in general historically has paid little attention to fathers (Grief & Bailey, 1990), and child welfare literature has been conspicuously silent about fathers of color. With the exception of services for unwed adolescent fathers, the literature does not address whether or how African American fathers participate in social services interventions on behalf of their children. No published research considers the extent to which African American fathers have been involved in services to children and families provided by child welfare agencies, the roles that fathers have played in child welfare interventions, or the outcomes of paternal involvement. Descriptions of major child welfare programs such as family preservation and reunification often do not specify how such programs operate within the context of the African American family (Courtney et al., 1996) or differentiate approaches to working with fathers and mothers (O'Donnell, 1995).

The lack of attention to African American fathers in child welfare research contrasts with a small but expanding literature on the ways many African American fathers are involved with their families and contribute to the well-being of their children. Much of the earlier literature about African American families either ignored the father or emphasized negative paternal attributes such as lack of involvement or psychosocial pathology (Allen, 1981; Bowman, 1988; Cochran, 1997; McAdoo, 1981). The current literature provides more positive views of African American fathers' involvement with their children than were reflected in the earlier literature. In addition, newer studies are often more sensitive to the environmental conditions that affect fathering in African American families and suggest a much greater variation in paternal behaviors among African American men than was previously reported (Cochran, 1997).

One of the major themes in current research is the importance of the economic provider role to African American fathers. In contrast to the stereotype of the sexually predatory men who father children but feel no obligation to support them, studies have found that African American men view the provider role as an essential component of what manhood and fatherhood mean to them (Brown, 1983; Cazenave, 1979, 1984; Hendricks, 1981; Hunter & Davis, 1994). Moreover, some research suggests that the inability to fulfill the economic provider role may have important psychological and social consequences for African American fathers. Bowman (1985, 1988, 1990), for example, found that married African American fathers who reported having difficulty in fulfilling the provider role also tended to report lower feelings of personal happiness and family satisfaction, although the latter effect was sometimes offset by strong kinship bonds and religious belief. …

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