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Promoting young fathers' positive involvement in their children's lives
Promoting young fathers' positive involvement in their children's lives
Promoting young fathers' positive involvement in their children's lives
Promoting young fathers' positive involvement in their children's lives
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Promoting young fathers' positive involvement in their children's lives


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  • 1. policy briefFebruary 2012AUTHORS OR OTHER APPRPRIATE TEXTPromoting young fathers’ positiveinvolvement in their children’s livesIntroductionThe presence of fathers in children’slives is known to contribute to children’schances of experiencing positivedevelopmental outcomes (Jaffee et al.2001). Absent fathers result in poorerhouseholds (female-headed householdsare about a third poorer than male-headed households) and a lack ofpositive role models for boys and girlsregarding appropriate male–femaleinteraction and shared parenting models.Sadly, South Africa has a high rate ofabsent fathers, with only one-third ofpreschool children living at home withboth their parents (Statistics South Africa2011). Reasons for father absenteeisminclude migrant labour, delayedmarriage, gender-based violence andincreasing female autonomy (Richter etal. 2012). The 2012 draft White Paper onFamilies raises concerns about SouthAfrican families being‘under siege’, andlists, among other threats to coherentfamily life, absent fathers and formerspouses or partners who prevent fathersfrom playing a role in the lives of theirchildren.Obstacles to fathering have not been welldocumented. This applies especially toyoung fathers who became parents whilestill at school or college. Alongside olderfathers, young fathers have frequentlybeen portrayed in the media as unwillingto take responsibility for their children.In contrast, a recent HSRC research studyshows that many young fathers wantto be active parents and have a strongsense of responsibility towards theirchildren. They are, however, confrontedwith numerous barriers to fulfilling theirparenting roles.This policy brief describes these barriersand examines the current policyframework in light of these barriers. Onthis basis it makes recommendationsfor policies and programmes to increaseyoung fathers’chances of beingpositive, involved parents. These includepopularising a broader notion of father­hood (beyond only financial support),providing help for young men to playa meaningful role in the lives of theirchildren and offering targeted financialopportunities for young fathers.Key research findings of the TeenageTata studyRather than exploring and facilitating theroles young fathers can and do play intheir children’s lives, studies have tendedto concentrate on negative life outcomesfor these young men. These includedelinquency (Breslin 1998), lower levelsof educational attainment (Marsiglio1986) and reduced employmentopportunities and subsequent poverty(Bunting & McAuley 2004; Pirog-Good1996). Swartz and Bhana’s Teenage Tatastudy (2009) addressed this gap byexamining the experiences of youngblack African and coloured South Africanfathers living in resource-constrainedsettings in the Western Cape andKwaZulu-Natal. Through in-depthinterviews with 27 young men whobecame fathers between the ages of14 and 20, and members of their socialnetworks, the study describes commonstereotypes of fathering and youngfather­hood, barriers to a young father’sinvolvement in the life of his child, andsupport systems available to a youngfather.Breaking stereotypesMedia images that describe youngfathers as choosing to be absent anduninvolved are not correct. Many youngfathers have a strong desire to playactive, positive roles in the lives of theirchildren. Many do so, while others areprevented from doing so. Yet others areinitially slow to come forward but maywell do so over time. Of course, someyoung fathers do remain uninvolved anddisinterested.Most young fathers well understandwhat it means to be a good father.They see being able to provide materialsupport as critical to being a good father,and almost all recognise the importanceof contact time, physical affection,day-to-day involvement and supportivecommunication with children.The young fathers in this study spoke oftheir many efforts to generate incometo support their children, and reportedspending less on themselves in order todo so. In addition, concerns about theirpolicy briefJanuary 2013S SWARTZ, A BHANA, L RICHTER and A VERSFELD0394 - Policy Brief - Young Fathers.indd 1 1/22/13 12:54 PM
  • 2. policy ability to care for their children ledto increased condom use and decreasedinvolvement in illegal or dangerousactivities such as gangsterism andsubstance abuse.BarriersBeing an active, involved father andtaking responsibility is not easy, however,and many young men reported on thevarious financial, cultural and relationalobstacles they have experienced.FinancialBeing able to take responsibility andfinancially support a child are oftenregarded as synonymous. Financialprovision often overshadows otheraspects of father­hood, such as contacttime, physical care and emotionalsupport. This is particularly problematicfor young fathers in contexts of povertyas they tend to have limited accessto finances due to their continuingeducation and absence of income. Inour study, young men were frequentlyrejected by the mothers’families if theywere unable to contribute financially.Naturally, this stops these young fathersfrom assuming the other roles of father­hood.CulturalFor young, black African men,involvement in their children’s lives is alsohampered by cultural expectations. Inthe case of an unmarried couple, a fatheris required to make damage paymentsto the family of the mother of his child.This may frighten off a young fatherfrom claiming paternity, especially if heis unemployed. Again, in the absenceof damage payments being made, thefamily is likely to deny the father accessto his child. The young man’s parents mayalso warn him against claiming paternityif damage payments will force him toabandon his education or strain thefamily’s meagre resources.RelationalMany young fathers or mothers donot have long-standing romanticrelationships with the co-parents oftheir children. A poor relationshipwith the child’s mother also reduces ayoung father’s ability and desire to playa fathering role. When young parentslive with their own parents, and these(grand)-parents play a major role inproviding and caring for the children,the young persons’actions are guided(and limited) by the desires and wishesof the grandparents. The young mother’sfamily mostly takes primary responsibilityfor the child. This means that they oftenhave power to determine the degree towhich young fathers have access to andare involved in raising their children. Lackof financial resources or being regardedas‘not good enough’by a youngmother’s family can cause the rejectionand exclusion of the young father,undermining his ability to play an activerole in his child’s life, both currently andin the future.Support systemsOur study found that there are fewprofessional or community servicesaimed at supporting young fathers, andthose that do exist are not well known orused. Furthermore, young men reportedthat their actions towards their childrenare most likely to be influenced byencouragement and support from theirown mothers, as well as by positiverelationships with the mothers of theirchildren and the family members ofthose mothers.Father­hood: a window of opportunityThe study makes it clear that youngfather­hood, although difficult, providesa window of opportunity for workingproductively with teenagers. Father­hood at an early age does not indicatethat young men are, nor will always be,irresponsible. In fact, father­hood oftenushers in life changes that are requiredin order to become a more responsibleparent.A key question to be answered is howthese research findings fit the currentpolicy framework relating to families, andparental rights and responsibilities.Current policy frameworkThe South African policy framework onparental rights and responsibilities iscurrently set out in the Children’s Act(No. 38 of 2005). The Act aims to providea legally binding framework for theprinciples laid out in the 1989 UnitedNations Convention on the Rights of theChild, endorsed by South Africa in 1995.Both the Convention and the Act seek toact in the‘best interests of the child’.The Act is complex, but fundamentallyit indicates that legal parenthood status(for a mother or a father) requires thatthe parent has both the right and theresponsibility to care for, maintaincontact with, act as guardian for andcontribute to the maintenance of thechild. These rights are automaticallyconferred on mothers over the age of 18and fathers married to, or in a permanentlife partnership with, the mother at thetime of conception or birth of the child.For biological fathers not in one of theserelationships with the mother of theirchild, paternity requires that maintenancefor the child is paid, but does not conferthe rights and responsibilities of care,contact and guardianship. Section 21 ofthe Act outlines the requirements for legalpaternity. It states that such a father must:• Consent to being identified as thechild’s father, or succeed in beinglegally identified, or pay damages interms of customary law.• Contribute or have attempted [ouremphasis] to contribute to the child’supbringing for a reasonable period.• Contribute or have attempted in goodfaith to contribute to expenses inconnection with the maintenance ofthe child for a reasonable period.The responsibility to assume paternity,then, rests with the father. It requires the0394 - Policy Brief - Young Fathers.indd 2 1/22/13 12:54 PM
  • 3. policy that he accepts and playsa social and financial role in his child’s lifeover an (undefined) period of time or – atthe very least – that he has attempted todo so. The Act assumes that fathers havethe power to determine the degree towhich they are involved in their children’slives. As shown from our research, this isnot always the case.The Act provides for such complicationsby stating that in cases of disputebetween biological mothers andfathers with regard to parental rightsand responsibilities, the matter mustbe referred for professional mediation.In such cases, the term‘attempted’inthe Act may have great importance,especially for a young father who wantsto play a father­hood role but has beenprevented from doing so. The problem,of course, is that young men, particularlythose under the age of 18, are too youngto be legal guardians of their children,yet being absent now has implicationsfor wanting to be involved in the future.Moreover, disempowered young menand those living in resource-constrainedcontexts are unlikely to be able to use orunderstand how the mediation processworks.The current policy framework as set outin the Act does not seem to adequatelyaccount for young fathers’everydaycontexts and situations. By assumingthat young fathers have open access toplay the role of father, the Act introducesunintended implications that are not inthe best interests of the child.RecommendationsThe 2012 draft White Paper on Familiesrecommends that one of the strategiesfor the promotion of family life shouldbe to‘Encourage fathers’involvement intheir children’s upbringing’. One of thesuggested actions listed for this strategyis to‘Elaborate or revise current laws andsocial policies that restrict fathers frombeing involved in their children’s livesand replace them with those that createan environment where fathers have theopportunity to care for, engage with,and support their children’. In keepingwith this aim we offer a number ofrecommendations for the facilitation ofimproved levels of involvement of young,unmarried fathers – and consequentlyfathers in general – in their children’slives.1. Assist young biological fathers inclaiming rights of care and contactwith their children.In South African legislation, paternityclaims for unmarried men rest onfinancial and physical involvement ina child’s life for‘a reasonable period’.The legislation does not, however,sufficiently recognise the difficultiessome fathers have in accessingtheir children and providing suchinput. Many factors may hinderyoung fathers from actively playinga role in the lives of their children.These factors are often out of theircontrol, such as rejection by thefamily of the mother of their child.Young fathers, particularly those tooyoung to be guardians (under theage of 18), need additional supportand assistance in claiming therights of care and contact with theirchildren. It is important to educateyoung men about their rights andresponsibilities. A policy initiativemay be to encourage a joint custodyhearing with the young parents’families present, within the first twoyears of a child’s life, to ensure access.This would be reviewed when thebiological parents come of age. Thecourt might also require these youngparents to attend, say, two parentingeducation events along with theirparents.2. Promote a broad understanding offather­hood beyond financial provision.Father­hood consists of a broad rangeof roles and responsibilities. Theseinclude the provision of financial,physical and emotional support fora child. The current requirementsfor paternity focus only on financialsupport as the critical marker offather­hood (Khunou 2006). Whilefathers should not be allowed toavoid their financial responsibilitiesby receiving unconditional supportfor their paternal rights, it shouldbe recognised that poverty andstructural constraints may limit afather’s ability to provide financially.Consequently, efforts should bemade to ensure that a lack offinancial support is not automaticallyequated with inadequate parenting.Along with the 2012 draft WhitePaper on Families, we thereforerecommend that educationprogrammes (including mediacampaigns) be launched thatpromote the‘softer’aspects offather­hood: contact time and social,physical and emotional engagementwith children. These programmesshould emphasise that a practicallyand emotionally involved father isultimately far more likely to providefinancially for his children (Graham &Bellar 2002).3. Provide relationship training thatincludes grandparents.Grandparents of children born toyoung parents frequently assumeresponsibility, including formalguardianship, for raising thosechildren. They are also known toreject young fathers, or excludethem from raising their children.Given this, grandparents should beincluded in support programmesfor young parents and educated inthe importance of a father’s broadroles in the developmental outcomesof children. At the policy level, aspecial category should be createdfor temporary guardianship ofchildren until their parent(s) are ableto assume legal guardianship (oncethey turn 18). In addition, while thesupport of grandparents should beencouraged, the roles they play indetermining the care roles played byyoung parents should be researched.0394 - Policy Brief - Young Fathers.indd 3 1/22/13 12:54 PM
  • 4. policy Service providers should encouragefathers’ active involvement in theirchildren’s lives.Early paternity identificationincreases the chances of a father’sinvolvement in his child’s life(Maxwell et al. 2012). Fathers’earlyinvolvement in their children’slives should be encouraged frompregnancy, continuing throughoutthe child’s life. Antenatal andpaediatric care facilities are currentlylargely set up to work primarilyor exclusively with women. Theseshould be re-orientated to work withindividual parents of both sexes,and couples and their children,irrespective of marriage status.Healthcare providers and familyworkers should be trained to treatyoung fathers as important, activecaregivers (Beardshaw 2006). Toachieve this, healthcare polices needto be scrutinised and adjusted wherethey hamper fathers’involvement.Provision might also be made to addfathers’names to birth registrationcertificates retrospectively.5. Assist young fathers in meetingfinancial obligations.Young children have betteroutcomes if they receive adequatefinancial support. Financialresponsibility is – and should remain– an important aim for young fathers.There is evidence that if patternsof work and employment arefavourable, working-class fathers areassisted to remain actively engagedin their children’s upbringing (Rabe2007). The 2012 draft White Paperon Families recommends payingspecial attention to employmentcreation efforts directed at fathersto aid them in playing roles in thelives of their children. This shouldbe prioritised for young fathers,including the provision of alternativepathways for completing educationwhile meeting financial obligations.It might also take the form of a focuson public works and communityservice programmes aimed at youngfathers that teach both job marketand parenting skills. Future researchand policy should focus on how bestthis could be done.ReferencesBeardshaw T (2006) Taking forward workwith men in families. In L Richter & RMorrell (Eds) Baba: Men and father­hood in South Africa. Cape Town:HSRC PressBreslin M (1998) Delinquency andyoung father­hood share some, butnot all, risk factors. Family PlanningPerspectives 30(4): 152–155Bunting L & McAuley C (2004) Researchreview: Teenage pregnancy andparenthood: The role of fathers. Child& Family Social Work 9(3): 295–303Graham JW & Beller AH (2002)Nonresident fathers and theirchildren: Child support and visitationfrom an economic perspective. InCS Tamis-LeMonda & N CabreraHandbook of father involvement:Multidisciplinary perspectives.Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence ErlbaumAssociatesJaffee S, Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Belsky J& Silva P (2001) Why are childrenborn to teen mothers at riskfor adverse outcomes in youngadulthood? Results from a 20-yearlongitudinal study. Development andPsychopathology 13(2): 377–397Khunou G (2006) Fathers don’t standa chance: Experiences of custody,access and maintenance. In L Richter& R Morrell (Eds) Baba: Men andfather­hood in South Africa. Cape Town:HSRC PressMarsiglio W (1986) Teenage father­hood: High school completion andeducational attainment. In AB Elster& ME Lamb (Eds) Adolescent father­hood. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence ErlbaumAssociatesMaxwell N, Scourfield J, Featherstone B,Holland S & Tollman R (2012)Engaging fathers in child welfareservices: A narrative review of recentresearch evidence. Child & FamilySocial Work 17(4): 160–169Pirog-Good M (1996) The education andlabor market outcomes of adolescentfathers. Youth & Society 28(4): 236–262Rabe M (2007) My children, yourchildren, our children. South AfricanReview of Sociology 38(4): 161–175Richter L, Desmond C, Hosegood V,Madhavan S, Makiwane M et al.(2012) Fathers and other men inthe lives of children and families.Paper presented at the conferenceon Strategies to Overcome Povertyand Inequality: Towards Carnegie III,University of Cape Town, South Africa(3–7 September)Statistics South Africa (2011) Generalhousehold survey 2010: Statisticalrelease P0318. Pretoria: StatisticsSouth Africa. Accessed 6 October2012, S & Bhana A (2009) Teenage Tata:Voices of young fathers in South Africa.Cape Town: HSRC PressAcknowledgementThe HSRC acknowledges generousfunding from Save the Children Swedenfor the Teenage Tata study.Study authorsSharlene Swartz, PhD; Research Director,Human Sciences Research Council; adjunctAssociate Professor of Sociology, University ofCape TownArvin Bhana, PhD; Executive Director, HumanSciences Research Council; adjunct AssociateProfessor of Psychology, University of KwaZulu-NatalLinda Richter, PhD; Distinguished ResearchFellow, Human Sciences Research Council;honorary Professor of Paediatrics, University ofWitwatersrandAnna Versfeld, MSocSc; researcher, HumanSciences Research CouncilEnquiries to: Prof Sharlene - Policy Brief - Young Fathers.indd 4 1/22/13 12:54 PM