Researchers throughout the country are trying to paint a more accurate picture of young men who bond with their children born to teenaged mothers out of wedlock.
At Temple University, Marina Barnett, Ph.D., and Jay Fagan, Ph.D., professors of social work in the School of Social Administration (SSA), are interviewing young black, Asian and Latino fathers to learn what motivates them to become involved with their children.
"In this era of concern with families, child support, and strife between mothers and distant fathers, there has been very little effort to investigate the bonds between single fathers and their children," says Barnett, principal investigator of the Temple study, which suggests that experts now recognize that fathers play a more substantial role in their children's lives than simply as breadwinners.
"We are really trying to look at what are some of the conditions under which fathers are more likely to continue to participate in the lives of their children," says Barnett, noting that current research does not reflect what is actually happening in the population of unwed fathers.
Barnett, who along with her Temple colleague Fagan, and Valerie Whiteman, M.D., director of the Women's Health Center at Temple University Hospital, are looking at the characteristics of young fathers that may help in predicting the traits of men who stay connected to their children.
The researchers are specifically measuring social supports, personality traits, socio/demographic factors and the father's sense of morality and responsibility.
"We are operating from the premise that fathers are involved in the lives of their children, and if they are not involved, then there are some key factors that need to be identified," says Barnett, noting that the teen fathers are also queried about the importance of paternal identity and about bonding with their own parents.
"One of the things that we are looking at is the father's relationship with his family, his mother and father, and the quality of the relationship between the young father and the young mother."
In addition, the researchers are investigating whether young fathers are regularly available to their children, and whether they are routinely involved in the physical care and the decision-making process.
The researcher says that infants who are regularly in contact with their fathers are friendlier, interact more readily with others, and are more open to new experiences than children who have occasional paternal involvement.
"Several studies have explored the benefits of paternal bonding, but there has been scant investigation of the attributes that reinforce or diminish this bond," says Barnett, stressing that "literature on teen mothers is extensive, but study of their partners is insufficient."
The significance of the study is in its design, which allows researchers to examine prenatal predictors of father involvement at age two months and at age one year. Barnett suggests that fathers who are involved in the prenatal care will probably have a hand in the care and socialization of their children after birth.
The two-year research project, which began in May 1999, involves 150 teenaged mothers between ages 15-19, and the fathers of their children. The young mothers are prenatal obstetrics outpatients at the Women's Health Center at Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia.
The mothers are being monitored from their eighth month of pregnancy to the child's first birthday. Interviews are being conducted at three intervals: before the child's birth, at two months old and after the child's first birthday.
"We are interviewing the dads even before the moms have the babies and then we follow them for a year and conduct more interviews," says Barnett. "We are seeing more and more dads in the clinic."
According to Barnett, the study could help researchers learn more about fathers who bond with their children, and also help social workers, psychologists and policymakers to provide and plan appropriate services for adolescents who are thrust into parental roles.
In addition to Temple University and the Temple University Hospital, the National Center on Fathers and Families is a partner in the project.
For more information about the study, contact Temple's Office of News and Media Relations, 215/204-7476.