"And Still We Rise": A Qualitative Study of Strengths, Challenges, and Needs of African American Fathers Parenting Children with Special Needs
Bridgers, Jr, James Cullen
Randolph, Suzanne M
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An ecological systems/risk-resiliency framework (Bronfenbrenner, 1986) was used to examine selected issues that have the potential for informing the development of culturally sensitive family interventions that focus on the strengths, challenges, and needs of African American fathers of children with special needs. This study attempted to fill gaps in the literature by examining strengths and resiliency within these fathers, and their involvement with and parenting of young children with special needs. This qualitative study included 30 African American fathers who regularly attended a male caregivers' support group at a pediatric hospital for children with special needs in Washington, DC. Four focus groups and nine face-to-face, follow-up interviews were conducted to validate and refine study themes. Verbatim transcript data were analyzed using qualitative software (N6/NUD*IST) to code and generate recurring themes. Results indicated recurring themes for strengths (redefined by the men as rewards) including: pride in children's accomplishments; increased knowledge about and ways to promote children's development; social fathering (i.e., serving in roles to complement or substitute for biological fathers); and generative fathering (i.e., making sacrifices and giving back to their children to ensure family connections). Fathers' challenges included: relationship difficulties with partners, friends, and community members; unemployment; negotiating health care systems; and dealing with issues that disproportionately affect African Americans (poverty, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS). Finally, fathers reported on concrete needs that (if satisfied) would improve the quality of their own lives and the lives of children with special needs, including the need for male caregivers' support groups; referrals/linkages to services; improved partner relationships; and culturally competent interventions, programs, and services. Several trans-system themes (i.e., themes that cut across ecological levels) were also identified, including personal development, generative fathering, social support, and advocacy. Results have implications for developing model interventions to strengthen family systems and address African American fathers' needs in parenting children with special needs. Findings were used to draw implications for future theory-based research, family policies, and culturally specific interventions to improve services to African American fathers of children with special needs and their families.