This research explores enactment of the fathering role by impoverished men of ethnic groups that are rarely studied. From a content analysis of interviews with 150 very low income biological fathers the study identified a construct of fathering that took into account their commitment, guidance, and acts of caring for the child, among other items. The fathering construct was studied in relation to outcomes important to social welfare policy. Since the research is a secondary analysis of the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation dataset of 1996-2001, years coinciding with the start of the current welfare law (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996), the study helps us understand some men's behavior relative to this law's requirements. Specifically, impoverished fathers, long excluded from the welfare system, are now a major focus of attention with respect to their behavior as responsible fathers and providers. The study found that virtually all of the men identified as fathers, and this had a positive effect on their continuous employment. Moreover, the men became more sensitive to and protective of their children with greater stress in the family--whether from its enduring poverty, conflict, or maternal depression.
The findings also are instructive for culturally competent social work practice. For African American men the study found that their identification as a father was positively related to their living with the mother and child. This finding is echoed by these men's frequent comment being there, with the idea that one is not a real father if one is not there. This suggests the need to keep the father there for the children in whatever ways possible; if not by his everyday presence, then by visits, letters, phone calls, and through the children's contact with his family.
For Latino men the unique finding was their reporting aspects of fathering that are not gender specific, such as guiding the child, and reliance on support from mothers in enacting the fathering role. This suggests the need to respect the existing hierarchical relationships in Latino families, and to validate these men's contributions as fathers without invalidating their masculinity. (author abstract)