Barriers to Unmarried Father Involvement During Infancy: Qualitative Study from Professionals’ Perspectives
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Introduction Unmarried fathers in the U.S. face barriers to establishing a relationship with their newborn children that married fathers do not confront. Our study was implemented to determine how systems and services could be modified to better support the engagement of unmarried fathers. Methods We conducted interviews with 35 professionals who interact with primarily low-income unmarried mothers and fathers to elicit their perceptions of such barriers. We developed a social ecological model to inform the study design and used purposive sampling with chain referrals to ensure a wide breadth of perspectives. Themes and subthemes categorizing personal and environmental factors were placed within five nested categories corresponding to different levels of influence on unmarried fathers’ behaviors: public policy, community, institutions, interpersonal relationships, and intrapersonal characteristics, and their intersections. Results Participants challenged as inaccurate the stereotype of unmarried fathers as disengaged and uninterested in being involved with their children. Rather, they described the marginalization and devaluing of unmarried fathers by government policies and family service systems and programs and also the dearth of resources available to them. They called on decision makers to adjust policies and services to be more inclusive of unmarried fathers, to promote father engagement more actively, and to urge direct service providers to respond to fathers as valued individuals. Discussion Adapting to the common reality of nonmarital childbearing will entail a systematic shift in the integration of ways in which we value, understand, include, and serve fathers.
KeywordsQualitative research Unmarried father involvement Social ecological model
This project was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under Grant No. R40MC26807, and the R40 Maternal and Child Health Field-initiated Innovative Research Studies Program. The information or content and conclusions are those of the authors and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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