Objective: To examine sources of theoretical variation in youth and caregiver perceptions of nonresident father involvement.
Background: Relationship complexity and environmental factors can result in complicated trajectories of father involvement. We examined both caregiver and youth perceptions of nonresident father–child relationships among low-income, single-parent families that were often affected by paternal incarceration.
Method: The present study drew from a sample of families served by a Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) program in a metropolitan region of a Mid-Atlantic state. In-depth interviews with 27 caregivers and their 33 children were the basis of a qualitative analysis.
Results: Findings revealed 4 typologies of perceived father involvement: disengaged, sporadic, encouraged, and engaged. Description was thickest regarding the complexities paternal incarceration posed for nonresident fathers’ relationships with children and caregivers’ attempts to mediate between children and fathers.
Conclusion: Narratives about nonresident fathers were situated within complicated ecologies of environmental press such as incarceration, geographic separation, and relationship quality challenges that changed as families adapted to new realities and shifts in kin networks. Maternal mediation between children and their fathers was not a simple judgment and driven by real concerns about children’s well-being in highly stigmatized environments or older youths’ contact preferences.
Implications: Caregivers’ concerns about children’s fathers need to be understood as part of any programmatic efforts aimed at enhancing coparenting in nonresident-father families. Families with encouraged forms of nonresident-father involvement might be particularly receptive to intervention aimed at facilitating positive father–child relationships.
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