CHAPTER SIX
OPPORTUNITIES TO IMPROVE DATA
AND RESEARCH ON FATHERHOOD
Chapter 6: Summary of the Targets of Opportunities Presented to the Interagency Forumon Child and family Statistics by the Working Group on Targets of Opportunity and Trade-Offs
Linda Mellgren (co-chair)
Wendy Taylor (co-chair)

 

Report to the Federal Interagency Forum

On October 1, 1997 the Data Collection Committee presented to the Federal Forum on Child and Family Statistics a report on ten key Federal activities that could improve data collection on fertility, family formation, and fathering. Identified as targets of opportunities, some of these activities required that the Forum initiate action. Others asked the Forum to promote certain opportunities that would benefit from multi-agency support. The Forum endorsed the report and all of the ten identified opportunities are now in some stage of implementation. This chapter presents the ten targets of opportunity, the rationale for their choice, and the implementation activities that are underway.

The goal of this multi-year review of the state of data collection and research on male fertility and fathering has been to fill gaps and build on existing efforts. The ten targets of opportunity identified in this section reflect the general agreement by a wide range of participants on the most important issues that need to be addressed, but do not exhaust the set of recommendations and ideas that have been identified as a part of this review. The report to the Forum focused on those activities that seemed most consistent with the missions of the Forum member agencies and that would benefit substantially from ongoing interagency collaboration. The selection of particular surveys or mechanisms for exploring change resulted from discussions among work group and data collection committee members, conference participants, academic experts and Federal agency staff. New efforts were considered only when no other options were available.

Target of Opportunity One: State of Data Collection and Research on Fathering

Continuing the Public-Private Partnership

The general approach taken in the selection of these targets of opportunity was to identify a mix of activities that would produce significant improvements in how data on fertility, family formation and fathering is collected and that could provide a broad research community with more accurate and complete information on factors that affect family and child well-being. The opportunities selected are not the only options for accomplishing these objectives, but, in the considered judgement of federal staff and researchers, appeared to be the opportunities with high potential for success and ones that would benefit from the Forum's Federal leadership. Critical to the selection of activities were issues of timing, staff resources, and agency commitment.

Costs associated with each of the ten targets of opportunity have been discussed, but those discussions are not included in this volume. Some projects will be done as part of competitively-awarded government contracts, other activities will be negotiated as part of ongoing agency administrative or intramural research expenditures. Some projects are soliciting support from private foundations. These investments are likely to have a high payoff, not just to our understanding of the dynamics of fatherhood, but is our understanding of how children are affected by the family and community context in which they live.

An organized, well-thought out, interdisciplinary plan for improving information on male fertility, family formation and fatherhood has the potential to cost less than ad hoc project development, or to cost no more, but with a substantial increase in the quality and quantity of available information. By building on agencies' existing plans and by coordinating question development across agency surveys, inefficiencies and redundancies can be reduced. Since the preponderance of evidence indicates that father involvement may play a crucial role in promoting child well-being and in helping children make the difficult transition from childhood to productive adulthood, the cost of inaction was thought to be much higher than the cost of concerted action on the part of the Forum and its member agencies.

The success of these opportunities also will depend on the continued participation of foundation and academic and nonprofit research partners. It is hoped that the development of an overall plan and the publication of these conference papers will mobilize resources and focus the attention of foundations and research experts on activities likely to produce substantial payoffs. Foundation support for this effort has already been strong and likely to continue. This review has also facilitated additional federal agency collaboration in terms of both resource commitments and joint staff efforts. To help in this collaborative effort we have included at Appendix M the names and addresses of prime contacts for each of the Chapters in this report and for the ten targets of opportunities.

There are many other national surveys and data collection activities, other than the ones we mention in this report, that will continue to be very important in increasing our understanding of male fertility, family formation and fathering. The importance of many of these has been recognized, discussed, and incorporated into the activities of this review. It is anticipated that, in addition to the publication of this volume (opportunity one), the work on other recommendations will also move forward. For example, development of the indicators report (opportunity two) and the Data Collection Committee paper on improving information on cohabitation, contact and father-child interaction (opportunity four), will specifically address the current, potential, and unique contributions of these efforts. By working together to push the analytic limits of our current data collection efforts and to thoughtfully expand new data collection efforts we can contribute to the well-being of the children of the twenty-first century.

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