LOW-INCOME TEEN FATHERS' TRAJECTORY OF INVOLVEMENT: THE INFLUENCE OF INDIVIDUAL, CONTEXTUAL, AND COPARENTAL FACTORS
Harden, Brenda J
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While teen births are on the rise and marriage rates are on the decline, fathers have become a recent focus. However, there is a dearth of literature on teen fathers' parenting behaviors. The current study provided a portrait of Early Head Start teen fathers' involvement throughout early childhood and salient influences on that involvement. This study maximized developmental and life course perspectives by employing a longitudinal analysis (i.e., Latent Growth Curve Model) that emphasized time-effects. The majority of teen fathers were involved with children initially, but their involvement decreased over time. Consistent with extant literature, teen fathers who were prenatally engaged, resident after the birth, and in romantic coparental relationships at 14- and 24-months were more involved in their children's lives initially. Teen fathers who were in romantic coparental relationships at 36- and 64- months were less likely to decrease their involvement over the course of early childhood. Surprisingly, age, race, employment, and school status were not significant influences on father involvement. Although the present study had its limitations, trends were noted and should be considered in future studies. Teen fathers are a unique population facing several challenges to meeting their own developmental needs and enacting their father role. Some conceptual factors shown to be influential for father involvement with adult and married fathers (i.e., age, employment) do not hold the same meaning and impact among teen fathers. The conceptual and ultimately practical meaning of behaviors and characteristics must be contextualized within teen fathers' developmental trajectory and ecological settings. Similarly, examination of teen fathers within a dynamic, longitudinal framework emphasized the need to address fatherhood in a different way. Previous studies have examined longitudinal data, but not examined the patterns of involvement for individual fathers. This different perspective (i.e., person-centered) revealed unique patterns for teen fathers. Further analyses will allow when and how to best intervene with teen fathers. Teen fathers may be at-risk, but they are involved with their children and can positively benefit both children and mothers. Head Start and Early Head Start could continue to support teen fatherhood through its mission to serve low-income children and parents; availability from pregnancy through 5-years; and mission to adapt to the needs of the community and family. But without support or intervention, the cycle of teen of parenthood is perpetuated.