Children in poor urban African American households face numerous challenges that disproportionately result in mental health problems, educational failure, drug abuse, criminal behavior and the reproduction of poverty. Improving the chances for these children requires understanding their family life. Among poor urban African Americans, long-term married, two-parent households have decreased dramatically. Many adults engage in a series of cohabitations that often last for less than a year that we refer to as transient domesticity. As a result, children in such households often have different fathers (and sometimes mothers) and grow up in the presence of subsequent changes in household composition. This raises questions about the quality of parenting provided to children and its impact. To obtain the richest perspective, this project explores transient domesticity as a social arrangement on its own terms with its own expectations and standards as opposed to merely a failure to follow or achieve mainstream norms. Some research indicates that poor African American custodial parents often receive extensive coparenting support from a variety of persons, especially their mothers and successive partners that serve as social fathers while in residence. Other research suggests that household instability can reduce children's well-being by diminishing their sense of security. This study contributes to knowledge about transient domesticity, coparenting and child well-being through the following specific aims:
AIM A. Examine the coparenting involvement by transient partners and how this varies over the natural history of relationships from formation through dissolution;
and AIM B. Measure the positive and negative health, behavior and developmental consequences to adolescents associated with transient domesticity coparenting and the turnover in relationships. The project will perform a five-year panel study of 150 poor urban African American households involved with transient domesticity to contemporaneously measure the dynamics of coparenting processes and their impact on adolescent children age 11-16. The project will also perform an embedded ethnography with a subsample of the households to more fully identify the dynamics, subjective experiences and impacts in the subjects'own words. The findings should prove invaluable for refining and modifying public policy initiatives aimed at improving the life chances for children affected by transient domesticity by understanding the strengths of the resources available to them, enhancing those resources, and addressing the challenges they face.
Custodial parents in poor urban African American households often engage in a series of short cohabiting relationships which present unique risk and possibly protective factors for children's mental health problems and negative outcomes. Understanding the nature of the turnover in cohabiting partners, changes in coparenting contributions and the impact on children's well-being will yield insights that should prove invaluable to developing policies to support children's healthy development such as programs that recognize and enhance the coparenting contributions by unmarried social fathers and others that limit the disruption associated with the formation and dissolution of relationships.
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