According to the Alabama
Family Alliance, the United States has the highest rate of father absent
families (Hendricks, et al., 2005). Adolescents who are
considered “disadvantaged” have a higher likelihood to grow up in a household without
a father due to low marriage rates and higher fertility rates. In 2012
approximately 2.5% of children were being raised with mothers and grandmothers
as heads of the household opposed to fathers (Cartwright & C., 2012). In general fathers not
in the same household as their children are less likely to provide economic
stability, parental guidance, and other resources that is linked to healthy child
development (Booth, King, & Scott, 2010).

A parent not living in the same household as the
child does not necessarily make them absent. ‘Father absence’ is often not defined
clearly, but in general it refers to a father voluntarily not being active in a
child’s life, a father who has passed away, or a father who was lost from other
circumstances. Children living without their biological fathers is not an
unusual situation, and it has actually increased in the years. Around 50% of
children live without their biological father at some point in their childhood
(Booth, King, & Scott, 2010). Generally when there is no father there is
less protection, financial support, and emotional support that ultimately
contributes to a child’s identity and character (Hendricks, et al., 2005). Literature
suggests a correlation between father absence and difficulties that children
experience, and some literature suggests that it is not father absence but
rather other social factors (i.e. poverty, lack of resources, socioeconomic status) (East,
Jackson, & O’Brien, 2007). 

As previously mentioned, there are other factors that one can take
into consideration, for example, the young woman decided to succumb to peer
pressure and resort to deviant behavior although both parents were actively involved
in her life. Another situation to take into account is the rebellious nature of
children while in the adolescent stage of their lives. This rebellious behavior
is common for both single parent and dual parent households however, dual
parents are typically able to employ strategic means and checks and balances to
curtail this behavior.

             When a child does not live with their
father it is harder for them to create a strong bond with their own children
and monitor them.  Previous research suggests that children with nonresident
fathers have a higher risk of poor school performance, substance abuse,
depression, and low self-esteem. Other sources of literature have found that
those adolescents who reported being close to fathers not in the same household
have higher levels of self-esteem and less symptoms of depression than those
who live with their fathers, but not are close to them (Booth, King,
& Scott, 2010).
The same source reports that children who live with their biological father,
but are not close to them, have better grades and less signs of drug and
alcohol use than adolescents with a nonresident father who isn’t close (Booth, King, & Scott, 2010). Overall those who
are close to their biological fathers living in the same household have the best
results (Booth, King, & Scott, 2010). This study shows
that the quality of relationships is very important when analyzing the effect
of ‘absent fathers’ on their children.

Also, research implies that father absent homes are more likely to
experience “poverty, teen pregnancy, poor academic performance, and psychiatric
problems (Hendricks, et al., 2005, p. 125).” Literature has shown that father
absence affects both male and female children, and their lifestyle choices
which can last for a lifetime. Many women with no father seem to desire male
attention and affection as a way to cope with not receiving any from their
fathers. Often times when a child does not have access or a type of
relationship with their biological father, some children find father-like
figures in cousins, uncles, teachers, etc. Forming new relationships. Even if
these newly formed relationships are loving and nurturing, they do not fix the
void that is there because of abandonment, loss, and grief that a child
experiences from a parent’s absence (East, Jackson, & O’Brien, 2007). Craving this male
attention often led to low self-esteem and bad decisions. Children who are
raised without their biological father in the household also tend to engage in
sexual intercourse at an earlier age and have higher rates of pregnancy than
those with their father in the household (Brooks-Gunn, et al., 2009).
            In 2007 a study was conducted
by Leah East, Debra Jackson, and Louise O’Brien in which they captured the
experiences of nine women (22-46 years old) who grew up without a father. This
specific study defined father absence as “…a father being absent from the
family home because of parental relationship breakdown (East, Jackson, &
O’Brien, 2007, p. 15).” Participants described how growing up without their
fathers hurt them deeply and affected the relationship they had with their
fathers; seeing them as strangers rather than fathers. The participants also
explained how their relationships with men have also been impacted as a result
of father absence including: “having distrust in men; fear of abandonment;
having negative feelings toward men; and not knowing or understanding the
relationship dynamics between men and women (East, Jackson, & O’Brien,
2007, p. 16)”.  (Hendricks, et al., 2005) Another study was done to see
the influence of father absence on self-esteem and sexual activity. The sample
consisted of adolescents from 10 schools in a rural southern community.
Questionnaires were used as a method of collecting data. Results found that
those children with no father in the home were more likely to engage in sexual
behavior.
            Teenage
years are a crucial time for a child’s development mentally, physically, and
emotional. Criminal activity tends to start in the early teen years and rise in
late teens. A study was done in which researchers looked at how a father being
absent during a child’s adolescence can impact “a male youths incarceration
risks to see how important it was relative to myriad other difficulties
encountered by populations at risk of incarceration” (Harper & McLanahan, 2004).

            In the black community the
amount of absent fathers is abundant and is continuously increasing. African
American children under the age of 18 years old are not very likely to live in
a household with both married parents (Hendricks, et al., 2005). The percentage of
African American children who do not live with their fathers has grown from 33%
(1995) to 39% (2002) (Hendricks, et al., 2005). Only about 50% of
divorced fathers are sure to see their children, and this percentage is even less
for those fathers who never married (Cartwright & C., 2012). About 69% of black
children in kindergarten to twelfth grade live in homes without a
present-father (Cartwright & C., 2012).  Until recent years the father’s
role in a child’s development was thought of as less important than the mothers (Hendricks, et
al., 2005).
More research is needed in an effort to better understand
how a father’s presence or absence can influence child development.  A father is a core source of social support
for adolescents.  There is a copious amount
of research about how the lack of a father’s presence correlates to delinquency
in males, and how the absence can affect a young woman’s self-esteem and sexual
behavior.  Previous literature also states that minorities tend to experience
father absence more often, but many of these studies do not focus on minority
groups.

 

“The majority of prisoners, juvenile detention
inmates, high school dropouts, pregnant teenagers, adolescent murderers, and
rapists come from fatherless homes, and the effects of growing up in absent
father homes can last for a lifetime (Cartwright & C., 2012, p. 30).” The present study will
examine the effects that father absence has on the incarceration of young
African-American women. Literature suggest that experiencing father absence can
strongly impact a child’s life choices and path. This is why it is imperative that
the line of questioning delves deeper and not just surface level questions as
the goal is to try to get a better understanding of impact that the absentee
father has on the psychological and emotional growth of young women.

 The main research
hypothesis of this study is that father absence increases the likelihood of
incarceration for African-American women. There are other possible factors in
father-absent households to test its impact on the chance of incarceration,
such as income, parenting styles, and the age/time when the father became
absent.
Method
Participants
            The present study will consist
of sample size of 1,000 (n=1,000) African-American young ladies that are
currently incarcerated in either a juvenile correctional facility or
jail/prison. These young women will be between the ages of 14-to 22-year olds. In
an effort to focus on a specific ethnic group, participants will be chosen based
on the race that they identified with when they were first were admitted into
the institution and put into the system. The focus of this particular study
will be African-American women, so the participant would have to identify themselves
as such. Participants will be from nine different locations in the U.S. The
nine locations are as follows: 1. Women’s Central Jail, 2. Ventura Youth
Correctional Facility, 3. Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, 4. Linda
Woodman State Jail, 5. Christina Melton Crain Unit, 6. Florida Department of Juvenile
Justice, 7. Chillicothe Industrial Home for Girls, 8. Georgia Department of
Juvenile Justice, and 9. Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. For
agreeing to be a part of the study participants will receive a monetary
allocation of $10.00 each.
Materials
            Data for this study will be
collected through both surveys and interviews. All participants will take the
survey which will consist of 15 questions, both open and close-ended. The
close-ended questions will be answered on a number scale, ranging from 1(being
the lowest) to 5 (being the highest). A sampling of questions will be as
follows: “How is your current relationship with your biological father?”, “How
enjoyable and stable was your childhood?”. Open-ended questions will include
questions like, “In a few sentences explain your relationship with your father
when you were a child,” “Would you consider your biological father absent? If
so, briefly explain your reasoning,” “Do you blame your biological father for
where you are today?”
Measures
            The study will analyze the
effect of father absence on the risks of incarceration in African-American
women. For this study ‘absent fathers’ will be defined in a couple of ways.
Firstly, a father will be considered absent if the biological father has no
form of emotional relationship with their daughter. Secondly, if the biological
father has not lived in the same household with the child for eight years or
more then he will be deemed absent. Thirdly, if the biological father passed
away or was lost due to other circumstances while the woman was 0- to 18-years
old. Lastly, an absent father is a biological father who has voluntarily
decided to not keep in contact with the young woman.
Procedures
            The nine institutions that the
women are located will be contacted in order to identify which women are
interested in being a part of the study. A consent form will then be given to
each participant in which they must sign agreeing to be a participant. The
consent form will include the purpose of the study and assure the women that
their identities will be kept anonymous throughout the duration of the
research. After receiving consent forms the surveys will be mailed to each
institution, and the institution will distribute them accordingly. Participants
will be broken up into smaller groups of 10 and supervised when filling out the
survey to ensure that their responses are not influenced by their peers, and
that the responses are genuine.

Based off the responses on the survey some of the participants
will be interviewed in order to obtain a deeper understanding of their lived
experiences. Participants who responded on the survey saying that they consider
their biological father absent, and in some way blames them for their current
status will be interviewed. Interviews will be brief and occur on a one-on-one
basis. The interview will consists of questions like: “Were you raised by a
single mother? If so please go more into detail about it,” “What kind of
parenting style would you say the parent in the household used–authoritative,
authoritarian, or permissive? Explain your reasoning.” “Do you think you missed
out on anything by not having your biological father in the household?” and
“When growing up did you have a father-like figure, such as an older brother,
cousin, uncle, etc.?”.

After gathering the information from the surveys and interviews,
the results and answers will be compared– those who had a present father vs.
those who had an absent father. All the participants are women who are African –
American and incarcerated, so they share common factors. Comparing the results
will give a better understanding of how father absence has an effect on the
incarceration of young African-American women.