A newly published study of teen mothers and their infants in Washington DC by Family Science Assistant Professor Amy Lewin 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. This involvement was significantly associated with lower distress in the infants who were, on average, 2 months old. 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.
- Department of Family Science