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Unwed Fathers Cite Barriers to Parental Involvement

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Economic and social barriers often hinder young unwed fathers from becoming more involved in their children's lives, a study of fatherhood programs in six cities shows.

Two-thirds of program participants surveyed said they would like to see their children more often. Among the obstacles to more frequent contact were time constraints, distance, and problems in the young men's relationships with their children's mothers.

The study was published by Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia-based organization that conducts research and demonstration projects on youth issues.

Its findings were based on telephone interviews with 155 fathers participating in P.P.V. pilot projects in Annapolis, Md.; Cleveland; Racine, Wis.; Fresno, Calif.; Philadelphia; and St. Petersburg, Fla. Other information came from data compiled by case managers and from interviews by ethnographers with 47 fathers at three sites.

More than half of the survey participants, who ranged in age from 16 to 26, still resided with one or both of their own parents. Thirty percent lived with their youngest child, and of this group 82 percent also lived with the child's mother.

Some young fathers who cited time constraints as a barrier said their erratic work schedules made it difficult to spend time with their children.

For others, though, the problem was a lack of time over all. They reported struggling to balance work, school, and participation in fatherhood-development activities.

"Ironically,'' the report notes, "many of the fathers said they saw their children less because of their involvement in the young-fathers program.''

Child-Support Problems

Half of the fathers in the ethnographic sample said they had been denied access to their children, for periods ranging from a month to more than four years. Seven fathers in the sample said their children lived too far away to visit regularly.

While many of the young men provided informal financial support to their children, such as buying diapers or clothes, few earned enough to meet legal child-support requirements.

In an initial survey, 43 percent of the young fathers described their relationships with the mothers of their children as serious and romantic. But 19 percent reported hostile or nonexistent relationships, while 23 percent said their dealings were child centered and 14 percent described "off and on'' ties.

A year later, however, fewer fathers described their relationships with the mothers as serious or even "off and on,'' while more reported relationships that were hostile or nonexistent or focused only on the child.

Not surprisingly, those who married or maintained romantic relationships with the mothers tended to see their children more often.

The report also examines how the current child-support system creates disincentives to declaring legal paternity.

Copies of the report are available for $5 each from Public/Private Ventures, Communications Department, 2005 Market St., Suite 900, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103.

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