Strategies Used by African American Fathers to Protect their Children from Community Violence
Letiecq, Bethany L.
Koblinsky, Sally A.
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The purposes of this study were to identify the strategies used by African American fathers to protect their Head Start children from community violence and to examine individual, familial, and community-level predictors of those strategies. There were two phases to the study. In Phase I, three focus groups were conducted with a total of 18 fathers and father-figures residing in targeted Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County, MD neighborhoods to qualitatively identify the protective strategies used by fathers. Content analysis of focus group data revealed twelve general strategies: 1) supervising children; 2) teaching neighborhood/ household safety skills; 3) teaching about real-life violence and its consequences; 4) teaching how to fight back; 5) teaching alternatives to violence; 6) reducing exposure to media violence; 7) confronting troublemakers; 8) keeping to oneself; 9) using prayer and positive thinking; 10) arming family for protection; 11) moving away from bad residential areas; and 12) engaging in community activism. During Phase I, this study also collaborated with an U.S. Department of Education study to develop a new measure, the "Parenting in Violent Neighborhoods Scale." During Phase II, 61 biological and social African American fathers of Head Start children were interviewed by trained African American male interviewers. Using the new quantitative measure developed in Phase I, fathers reported on their frequency of using various strategies to protect children from neighborhood dangers. Correlation matrices and factor analysis were used to refine the measure, producing five subscales of protective strategies. Regression analyses were conducted to examine the best predictors (e.g., psychological well-being, history of violence exposure, parenting practices, social support, and child's sex) of paternal strategies. Fathers were found to employ five major protective strategies: supervise children and teach personal safety; teach home and neighborhood safety; reduce exposure to violent media; arm and protect family; and engage in community activism. Authoritative and permissive parenting practices, depression, and social support predicted use of supervision and teaching personal safety. Authoritative parenting, permissiveness, and depression also predicted father's likelihood of teaching children home and neighborhood safety. Child's sex was the only predictor of "reduce exposure to violent media," with fathers of sons more likely to reduce exposure. Depression and social support were the best predictors of father's likelihood of arming and protecting his family. Lastly, authoritative parenting practices and social support predicted father's engagement in community activism. Implications for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers are discussed.