Abstract: Fathering in the Child Welfare System (Society for Prevention Research 24th Annual Meeting)

601 Fathering in the Child Welfare System

Friday, June 3, 2016
Seacliff A (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Lynsay Ayer, PhD, Behavioral Scientist, RAND Corporation, Arlington, VA
Introduction: Youth in the child welfare system (CWS) are at very high risk for mental health problems and re-reports of maltreatment, and have greater mental health service needs compared to their peers. Parental characteristics such as depression, substance use, and parenting behaviors have been shown to predict child mental health and re-reports of maltreatment. However, the vast majority of this research has focused on mothers rather than fathers. Research on fathers’ influences on youth in the CWS is needed to inform development of strategies to successfully engage fathers in prevention and intervention efforts. The purpose of this study was to understand the needs of primary caregiving fathers and their children in the CWS, how fathers’ mental health and parenting influence later child mental health and maltreatment outcomes, and how these associations compare to those found in female-headed families in the CWS.


Methods: This study used using existing data from a longitudinal, national probability study of children and families investigated for child maltreatment (National Survey of Child and Adolescent Wellbeing-II [NSCAW-II]). The NSCAW II baseline sample includes 5,873 children aged birth to 17.5 years old who had contact with the CWS from 2008-2009 and whose investigations were closed during this period. This study focused on the 3,636 youth who were living with their primary caregivers (e.g., not in foster care). 334 (9.2%) of these caregivers were male. Propensity score weighting and regression analyses were used.


Results: We identified significant demographic and mental health differences between male and female primary caregivers and their children. Fathers’ depression was a consistent predictor of child mental health problems at three-year follow-up. The role of key parenting factors in predicting later child mental health problems differed between fathers and mothers even after applying propensity score weights to mitigate demographic differences between the two groups.


Conclusions: These findings can shed light on how existing prevention and intervention programs, which have been generally designed to target mothers, could better reach and address the needs of fathers and their children. Given the high rates of medical and mental health problems of this population, these findings may have significant positive impacts on public health.