Inside the Black Box of Interactions Between Programs and Participants: Re-conceptualizing Subgroups for Fatherhood Program Evaluation. I. Social Support


Social support refers to the functional and/or emotional support fathers received from various sources, including kin and peer networks. Our literature review revealed predictors in this category pertaining to the constellation of kin networks, broad supports from many sources and across type (instrumental, emotional), as well as specific forms of support from particular sources, such as kin emotional support, supportive work environment, and involvement with formal networks (for example, community services).

Just over one-fifth of the studies reviewed (14 of 64) examined variables related to fathers' extended family and/or their social networks and supports as predictors of one or more key fatherhood outcomes (see Table VI.1). Altogether, 14 studies examined either kin or social networks; 10 estimated the effects of fathers' kin networks on fatherhood outcomes, and 10 estimated the effects of fathers' social networks. (Six studies examined both kinds of networks/support.)

·      Six studies examined the predictive role of kin or social networks on fathers' parenting, four of which found statistically significant associations.

·      Five studies estimated effects of kin or social networks on fathers' well-being, and all found statistically significant associations.

·      Two studies examined marital/partner relationships, both of which found significant associations.

·      One study examined the link between fathers' social support and child support outcomes and found it predictive.

·      We found no articles that estimated the effects of fathers' kin or social networks/supports on employment outcomes.

Appendix Table E.9 provides a list of the kin and social network variables examined in each article and indicates which variables were predictive of which outcome(s). Findings are summarized below.

1. Predictors of Parenting Outcomes

Quality of kin relationships. Three multivariate studies explored the association between the quality of kin relationships and parenting outcomes, two of which documented significant results. Sloper and Turner (1993) found that for 72 fathers of children with a severe physical disability, a cohesive family relationship with minimal conflict was associated with fathers' successful adaptation to having a child with disabilities. Conversely, less cohesive family relationships predicted higher levels of paternal distress. A study of 109 young disadvantaged, nonresidential fathers found that fathers with more positive relationships with their child's maternal grandmother demonstrated greater father involvement in his infant's life (Gavin et al. 2003). One multivariate study yielded non-significant results. Mitchell (2008) found that the quality of extended family relationships did not predict fathers' parenting among a sample of 49 low-income predominantly African American fathers whose children were attending Early Head Start.

New partner status. A father's formation of a new family or relationship was not found to significantly affect parenting outcomes in the one article that explored the relationship. In a sample of 268 non-residential fathers of infants through teens, LeBourdais and colleagues (2002) found that the amount of time fathers spend with children from a previous relationship did not differ significantly among fathers who had a new partner or child compared to fathers who had not formed new relationships.

Kin support. The amount of kin support fathers receive was examined as a predictor of parenting in one multivariate study. Coohey (2000) found, in his study of 35 physically abusive fathers, that abusive fathers received less instrumental support from extended family than a matched sample of non-abusive fathers. This study also found that abusive fathers received less emotional support from friends, despite desiring the same level of support as non-abusive fathers.

Support from networks. The relationship between support from other networks and parenting was examined in one multivariate study. Goodman and colleagues (2008) found that a non-supportive work environment was related to lower quality father-infant interactions in a sample of 446 low-income married or cohabitating fathers living in rural areas.

2. Predictors of Partner Relationship Outcomes

Quality of kin relationships. In a study of 49 Early Head Start families, the average quality of extended family relationships experienced by fathers was not associated with the quality of their marital or partner relationships (Mitchell, 2008).

New partner status. Among 1603 nonresidential fathers, Dush and colleagues (2011) found that fathers whose former partners were involved in a new romantic relationship consistently reported having a less supportive co-parenting relationship with their child's mother across multiple follow-up interviews.

3. Predictors of Child Support Outcomes

Kin support. In a study of 3,225 nonresident fathers, found that fathers' involvement with family and friends was not significantly associated with the establishment of paternity (Castillo, 2010).

Support from other networks. In two related multivariate studies, fathers' involvement with public welfare institutions was significantly associated to the establishment of child support orders (Castillo 2009), but not with the establishment of paternity (Castillo, 2010).

4. Predictors of Father Well-being Outcomes

Quality of kin relationships. Sloper and Turner (1993) found that a cohesive family relationship was associated with fathers' life satisfaction among fathers of children with a severe physical disability.

New partner status. Knoester and colleagues (2007) examined whether a father's formation of a new relationship affected his well-being. They did not find evidence of a significant association.

General support across networks. Four multivariate studies examined the relationship between the support that fathers received from across their social networks and their well-being. Two of the studies documented significant associations consistent with authors' hypotheses. In a sample of 312 first-time fathers living in Australia, Boyce and colleagues (2007) found that fathers' who reported lower satisfaction with the social support they receive also reported significantly higher levels of psychological distress. However, the actual amount of social support fathers reported receiving was not significantly associated with fathers' psychological distress. In a large Canadian sample, Wade et al., (2011) found that the availability of social support predicted fewer mood disorders among unmarried but not married fathers. This result led the authors to conclude that social support may be an especially important protective factor for unmarried fathers. Two articles used the same analytic sample of low-income, nonresidential fathers and found unexpected results. Higher levels of support from family, friends, and community workers (including professionals such as teachers and doctors) were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms, even after controlling for life stressors and resource challenges (unemployment, inability to pay child support, lack of permanent housing, criminal history, health problems or disability, or problems with alcohol or drugs, for example). In interpreting these counterintuitive findings, the authors speculated that accepting social support may contribute to fathers' depression because they may not feel they are able to return the favor, as is customary in their communities.

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