A newly published study of teen mothers and their infants in Washington DC by Dr. Amy Lewin, assistant professor of family science in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, examined father involvement and its role in child social emotional development. The study found that approximately three quarters of the infants’ fathers, who were on average 19 years old, African American, and not living with their children, were in fact involved with their children, seeing them regularly and contributing financially to their needs. Researchers analyzed data from interviews with 119 teen mothers in Washington DC where they were asked about their overall health, their mental health, the people in their lives who support them, their baby’s father, and their baby’s development.
Father involvement was significantly associated with lower distress in the infants who were two months old on average. The study also found that nearly a third of the teen mothers in the sample suffered from depression, and that mothers who were depressed had infants who were more distressed. However, fathers’ engagement with their children protected those children from the distress associated with maternal depression.
This study, published in the journal Maternal and Child Health, is the first to offer evidence that young, African American, non-resident fathers may be a protective resource for children born to teen mothers, and may buffer children from the adverse effects of postpartum depression. This protective effect of father involvement is seen as early as the first months of life, suggesting that it may help to alter early social emotional trajectories for a group of children at higher risk for later behavioral problems. These findings debunk popular stereotypes about young minority fathers, and underscore the importance of policies and interventions that support positive father involvement for teen parent families.
This research is part of a larger study, funded by HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, which is evaluating an innovative new model of primary care for teen parent families and comparing it to standard pediatric primary care. In this new model, social work services, mental health services, and legal services are all integrated into a primary care medical clinic that takes care of teen parents and their children together. The data reported for this study were collected at baseline (at the beginning of the study), when the mothers were first enrolling in the program.
Dr. Lewin will continue to examine father involvement as the children grow up and apply the findings to better understand how to care for teen parent families.
Original article: The Protective Effects of Father Involvement for Infants of Teen Mothers with Depressive Symptoms