ERIC Identifier: ED429143
Publication Date: 1999-03-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Young Fathers: New Support Strategies. ERIC Digest, Number 141.
There are compelling reasons to promote the involvement of fathers in their
children's lives: the value of their positive influence, their effectiveness in
increasing children's academic achievement, and the importance of their
financial support (Nord, Brimhall, & West, 1997). Teenage and young adult
males may need extra help to assume the full fatherhood role, but most, if
aided, will work hard to be successful parents. Public interest in fostering
fathers' involvement is increasing because of the recognized benefits of
fathers' contributions to their families. In fact, the National Education Goals
contain a family involvement mandate. The Federal Personal Responsibility and
Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996 requires states to determine
paternity for 90 percent of children receiving assistance, but it also provides
for family social and employment services. Indeed, the National Governors'
Association recommends comprehensive statewide policies governing all aspects of
teenage parenting (Stebbins, 1997).
Communities, frequently with government and school assistance, can implement
programs which help youth develop into caring and responsible fathers. Father
programs can be independent or components of programs designed for families,
teen mothers, or young men generally. This digest briefly describes program
components shown to be most effective.
SPECIAL ISSUES FOR YOUNG FATHERS
Because teenage fathers
almost never plan pregnancies, their initial reactions may be denial, fear, and
a desire to escape. Young fathers frequently face family rejection, barriers to
contact with child and mother, a lack of ways to contribute financially, and an
inability to envision future achievements enabling them to function effectively
as a father. They also may believe that they are simply unwelcome and inadequate
as parents (Batten & Stowell, 1996; Knitzer & Bernard, 1997). Their
emotional state is further complicated by the need to reconcile the
contradictory roles of adolescent and father and assume the responsibilities of
adulthood before they are sufficiently mature (Kahn & Bolton, 1986).
Effective programs take account of ethnic differences and use
culturally-sensitive outreach strategies and curriculum. Young fathers may need
to be helped to understand that the structure of the families of their birth,
heavily influenced by historical ethnic traditions and experience, may not be
workable in the U.S. today. For example, Latinos, who are most responsive to
warm, personal, informal contact--in their native language, if appropriate--need
to consider whether an adequate family income can result from traditional gender
role divisions. African Americans may feel hopeless and powerless, based on past
treatment of blacks in the U.S., and may mistrust both personal counseling and
agents of authority (Kiselica, 1995).
Programs also need to tailor their curriculum to the local socioeconomic
climate. Urban youth, for example, need special employment counseling, given the
exodus of entry-level jobs.
GOALS AND PERSPECTIVES
Successful programs help young fathers develop the
behaviors and assume the responsibilities common to committed parents by
providing them with emotional support and useful services. Reflecting the
current position of the Federal government, program goals indicate a shift in
the orientation of many agencies: from solely attempting to secure child support
payments to helping youth acquire fatherhood skills and increase their earning
ability. Programs now seek to demonstrate that there are benefits to accepting
the responsibilities of fatherhood as well as obligations (Levine, 1993; N.
Tift, Fatherhood Initiative, personal communication, February 1999).
Effective counselors acknowledge the limitations of adolescent attitudes and
economic realities. Possibly, they must transcend their own negative view of
young fathers, based on stereotypes: they are "super studs" with only fleeting
relationships with the mother, financially irresponsible, and uninterested in
fatherhood (Kiselica, 1995).
Program recruiters assume that fathers
want to be involved. To find prospective participants, they urge mothers to
supply names, encourage the youth's parents to recruit him, and go to
neighborhood places where youth congregate (e.g., basketball courts). Fathers
already involved with their children are recruited at birthing centers, clinics,
To entice youth to enroll, recruiters talk about the benefits of the program,
give fathers practical help at the outset, and arrange attractive, structured
father-child activities. Promises of other services also help fathers to enroll:
legal advice about paternity issues, empowering information about the birth
process and meeting infant needs, sex education counseling and personal medical
care, and mediation that leads to successful co-parenting. Offering new fathers
a safe and supportive place to talk about their children and other concerns, and
suggesting that program participation may give them added credibility with their
children' mothers, are other recruitment strategies (Batten & Stowell, 1996;
Kiselica, 1995; Simms, 1998).
Establishing trust in the program helps fathers overcome their possible fear
of authority and legal responsibilities, and negative and fatalistic beliefs
(Kahn & Bolton, 1986). Thus, recruiters are honest and clear about all the
ways a child benefits from having an involved father and also about how hard,
but uniquely satisfying, fathering is. It is beneficial for the outreach worker
to share, or be familiar with, the recruit's cultural background. One effective
strategy is for the first (if not all) contact to be made by another teen father
who can speak from experience. Older men who have overcome the difficulties of
early parenthood also recruit effectively (Tift, personal communication,
February 1999; Turning, n.d.).
Young father programs can offer many
different services, ranging from on-site support to referrals (i.e., legal aid,
GED courses, job training). Some offer only group activities; others, one-on-one
mentoring. Some programs function as a liaison between fathers and government
agencies to help men both meet their financial obligations and become eligible
for public services under the 1996 Federal Act (Stebbins, 1997). The Institute
for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization, however, is opposed to
accepting public assistance and focuses on developing self-reliance (Turning,
n.d.). One local YWCA, even produced a handbook for fathers to use, either with
the program or as a stand-alone resource (Maybury, 1991).
EDUCATION. It is crucial to help fathers get as much education as possible.
Thus, programs may need to act as advocates if school personnel encourage them
to leave. If fathers want to drop out of school, counselors can foster
persistence by building fathers' confidence that they can succeed, helping them
get a job that will not interfere with schoolwork, and securing tutoring.
Fathers who have already dropped out are referred to GED programs. High school
graduates are encouraged to enroll in higher education as a way of increasing
their long-term career and economic prospects and helping them model educational
achievement for their children (Kiselica, 1995).
PARENTING EDUCATION. As they explain why a father's involvement is crucial to
a child's development, counselors also teach how fathers can help their children
develop cognitively, socioemotionally, and physically. Equally important, they
help fathers develop strategies for controlling their anger when their children
misbehave and for constructively disciplining the children. Many audiovisual
aids are available to demonstrate good fatherhood practices (Kiselica, 1995).
CAREER DEVELOPMENT. Programs can help fathers find short-term employment to
meet their child support obligations; make long-range career plans; and enroll
in training programs, such as the Federal Job Opportunities and Basic Skills
Training. It may be necessary to provide a crash course in job-seeking and
job-training skills. Fathers of color may need help in overcoming negative
attitudes which, while based on historical experience, impede their chances for
employment success now (Kiselica, 1995).
COUNSELING. Counselors help youth clarify their feelings about impending
fatherhood and assuming adult responsibilities early. To help fathers feel less
isolated, they provide a place for sharing feelings, asking questions, and
identifying commonalities within the group. Counselors also help them develop a
mature definition of masculinity so they can enjoy a healthy relationship with a
woman and defer fathering additional children (Kiselica, 1995; Tift, personal
communication, February 1999).
SCHOOL STRATEGIES FOR FATHERS
Many schools have
comprehensive programs for pregnant and parenting females, in which they
encourage mothers to identify and involve fathers in their children's lives and
to recruit them for father programs. They may invite fathers to some programs
Some schools also implement and contribute to programs for fathers. They
enable fathers to continue their general education, offer them parenting
courses, and facilitate their efforts to find part-time work and make career
Kiselica (1995) has identified several schools and districts with programs
for both parents. The Booker T. Washington Alternative School (Terre Haute, IN)
permits parents to finish their education, access low-cost child care services,
and hold jobs. The Jefferson County Public Schools' Teen Parent Program (KY)
identifies and involves fathers prenatally, and helps them set and realize
goals. The New Futures School (Albuquerque, NM) is a collaboration among
education and social service agencies and the University of New Mexico Medical
School that provides parents with a range of services. The Boulder Valley
Schools Teen Parenting Program (CO) also offers services for both parents
The benefits to children, families, and society
of the commitment of fathers are undisputed. Therefore, it is worth the time and
effort of schools and community organizations to implement programs for young
fathers that will enable them to develop into responsible adults, meet their
obligations, and create a generation of well-nurtured and effectively educated
Batten, S.T., & Stowell, B.G. (1996,
October). School-based programs for adolescent parents and their young children.
Bala Cynwid, PA: Center for Assessment and Policy Development.
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Kiselica, M.S. (1995). Multicultural counseling with teenage fathers: A
practical guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Levine, J.A. (1993, August). Getting men involved: Strategies for early
childhood programs. New York: Families and Work Institute. (ED 388 399)
Maybury, K.K. (1991). Teen father handbook for teen fathers and teen
fathers-to-be. Sacramento, CA: Sacramento YWCA. (ED 334 334)
Knitzer, J., & Bernard, S. (1997). Map and track: State initiatives to
encourage responsible fatherhood. New York: National Center for Children in
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Nord, C.W., Brimhall, D.A., & West, J. (1997, October). Fathers'
involvement in their children's schools. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
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Program. Boulder: Fairview High School. (ED 347 255)
Simms, D. (1998, Fall). Reflection on program development for young fathers.
The Collaborator: Newsletter of the National Practitioners Network for Fathers
and Families, 4(3), 6-7.
Stebbins, H. (1997). Serving teen parents in a welfare reform environment.
Washington, DC: National Governors' Association. (ED 414 018).
Turning the hearts of fathers. (n.d.). Washington, DC: Institute for
Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization.