Research conducted by Dr. Amy Lewin, assistant professor of family science in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, shows that the strongest predictor of teenage fathers’ positive involvement in their children’s lives is a healthy co-parenting relationship with the children’s mother. Strong Foundations, a pilot program designed by Dr. Lewin and colleagues, aims to teach urban, low-income teenage parents co-parenting skills through flexible class curricula and interactive activities.
Dr. Lewin is a clinical psychologist who has led numerous studies on teen pregnancy and parenting. Her recent work, “Strengthening Positive Coparenting in Teen Parents: A Cultural Adaptation of an Evidence-Based Intervention,” was published in the June edition of The Journal of Primary Prevention. The National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth (NCFY), a free information service of the Family and Youth Services Bureau, highlighted the pilot program’s results.
Noting that few interventions have been designed for teen parents, the researchers tailored evidence-based methods found in Family Foundations, a program developed to teach co-parenting skills to adult cohabitating parents, to the specific ages and life experiences of young, urban minority mothers and fathers. Participants rated the pilot program highly and said they were very likely to put their new skills to use.
In particular, teen parents responded positively to interactive activities, such as role-playing, as opposed to watching educational videos or simply being taught parenting concepts, the study revealed. Text messaging was the best way to communicate with young fathers, and recruiting teenage fathers was most effective when the mothers of their children or male case workers were involved. Both mothers and fathers in the program fared better within relationship-based environments, such as having individual and joint access to social workers, facilitators, and clinic and school staff if relationship conflicts arose.
Though teen parents are difficult to reach and engage for a number of reasons, the authors found that “young, urban minority parents are deeply interested in being effective co-parents and are open to learning skills to support this goal.” Organizations that serve this population need more funding to meet the time- and staff-intensive demands of adjusting to teen parents’ schedules and needs, the researchers added.
According to the NCFY, “Only two interventions focus on co-parenting among teen parents, and those were aimed at pregnant mothers. Dr. Lewin and her colleagues wanted to develop a program that extends after babies are born.”