Academic journal article Family Relations

Father Involvement in Urban Low-Income Fathers: Baseline Associations and Changes Resulting from Preventive Intervention

Academic journal article Family Relations

Father Involvement in Urban Low-Income Fathers: Baseline Associations and Changes Resulting from Preventive Intervention

Article excerpt

This study investigates father involvement among a sample of ethnically diverse, low-income men participating in a randomized controlled trial of a 14-hour relationship education program that teaches skills and principles for healthy relationships. Utilizing data from 137 fathers, we examined contextual, individual, and coparental relationship pretest correlates of father involvement and found the strongest predictors were income, religiosity, ethnicity, and parenting alliance. Pre-post analyses on a subsample of 112 fathers revealed that workshop participants increased father involvement compared to controls and men whose partner attended workshops alone. Among worhhop attendees, increased father involvement was significantly predicted by increased parental alliance. Implications for improving fathering by targeting the couple relationship are discussed.

Key Words: coparental relationship, couples education, father involvement, low-income families, prevention, RCT.

Research shows that in addition to the historically prescribed role as breadwinner, fathers' involvement (or lack thereof) in day-to-day parenting tasks such as discipline and homework completion contributes in positive and negative ways to child outcomes. One stressor known to take a toll on fathering and family processes is financial hardship, with many of the negative effects of economic strain for children either exacerbated by frustrated, irritable parenting or buffered by positive, involved parenting (Harris & Manner, 1996; Mistry, Vandewater, Huston, & McLoyd, 2002). In this study, we sought to improve father involvement among low-income resident fathers by teaching skills to improve couples' communication, aid in coping with stress, and increase investment in and satisfaction with parenting.

Nearly 14 million children in the United States live below the poverty level, and 41% of children live in families that qualify as low-income, living at or below 200% of the poverty level (National Center for Children in Poverty [NCCP], 2009). Although many of those children live in single-parent families, more than one in four children in the United States live in low-income families with married parents. Poverty has especially deleterious effects on children and has been associated with poorer health, academic, social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes, particularly when poverty is persistent rather than transitory (BrooksGunn & Duncan, 1997; Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1994; McLeod & Shanahan, 1993). One mechanism by which financial strain impacts children is through family processes such as marital and parent-child relationship quality, with parent psychological distress implicated in poor relationship quality and parenting behavior (e.g., Conger, Ge, Elder, Lorenz, & Simons, 1994). According to Conger and Elder's family stress model, there is a direct link between high levels of stress caused by poverty and financial instability and increases in parental depression, leading to increased marital conflict (Conger et al., 1991). Marital discord, in turn, is associated with reduced quality of and satisfaction with parenting, especially among fathers (Coirò & Emery, 1998). Thus, understanding how to help low-income fathers mitigate stress and conflict should be a priority for researchers.


To target a positive change in father involvement, we need to better understand the factors that contribute to or interfere with positive fathering. Belsky's (1984) process model proposes that competent parental functioning (for both mothers and fathers) is affected by parent characteristics (i.e., maturity, personality, psychological functioning), social/contextual factors (i.e., the marital relationship, social supports, work), and child characteristics (most notably, temperament), in that order. Doherty, Kouneski, and Erickson (1998) proposed a similar model, highlighting the coparental relationship (i. …

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