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
Rationale: The papers and plenary sessions from the March conference provide the most extensive overview of the substantive and methodological issues surrounding data collection and research on male fertility and fatherhood ever assembled at one time. Because of the excellent scholarship and multi-disciplinary partnerships that went into writing the papers, these published proceedings could contribute to the development of more precise measurement and understanding of male fertility and fathering for the next decade.
Implementation Status: This report, Nurturing Fatherhood: Improving Data and Research on Male Fertility, Family Formation and Fatherhood, in this report; it has been published and distributed widely and is available on the Internet has been published.
Target of Opportunity Two: Indicators of Male Fertility and Fatherhood
Rationale: A systematic assessment of the information available on male fertility, union formation and fatherhood needs to be conducted to identify desirable indicators, to identify survey mechanisms, to obtain data, to evaluate the quality and usefulness of what is available, and to tabulate and publish the best available information for the public and policy making communities. In the Forum's report, America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, some of the important missing indicators were identified: family structure, time use (for both parents), children's interaction with nonresident parents, particularly fathers, and the establishment of paternity; but more work needs to be done. Although this report would not be a trends report, it would establish the baseline for new trend lines and identify trend information that may exist on a limited number of indicators. Focusing on the indicator identification and selection process would clarify what data on fatherhood are most critical for routine collection by federal statistical agencies. Progress on the development of indicators would also improve the quality and standardization of questions asked on national surveys. We anticipate that a by-product of this effort would be the inclusion of more fatherhood indicators in trends reports produced by the Federal Government and elsewhere.
Implementation Status: The Reporting Committee of the Forum has agreed to develop this baseline report with assistance from the NICHD Family and Child Well-Being Research Network and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation/DHHS. Basic conceptual work is already underway. Potential indicators for male fertility and union formation were developed by the and Work Group Male Fertility and Family Formation as part of their conference paper. Kristin Moore and Anne Driscoll of Child Trends coordinated work on indicators of male fertility and family formation. The NICHD Family and Child Well-being Research Network has asked Randal Day, Kristin Moore and Brett Brown to take the lead on developing fatherhood/fathering indicators. Although the first stage of the process has begun, additional work will be needed to actually identify what information is available and to assess its quality. Some additional data analysis may be needed as well before a product could be published. Funding is being sought from several agencies and from the private sector. The target date for release of the report is on or near Fathers Day 1999.
Target of Opportunity Three: Collection of Data on Male Fertility
Rationale: In order to identify trends and differences in how men become fathers and what they do as fathers, basic descriptive information needs to be collected periodically about (a) their sexual activity, contraceptive use, the pregnancies to which they contribute, and the outcomes of these pregnancies; (b) males' perceptions of their own and their partners' views of the intendedness of these pregnancies and births and their views of fatherhood and marriage; and © what they do as fathers. To accomplish this objective the collection of data about male fertility must be institutionalized. Expansion of the NSFG is the most promising avenue for this effort. What is learned from the NSFG work should also be used to inform the collection of male fertility information in other surveys.
Implementation Status: NCHS has funded seven small contracts to examine what has been learned in other large national surveys that have collected information directly from men on their sexual behavior and family formation. The results of these reviews will be submitted in early in 1998. By April or May of 1998, there should be an outline of the questionnaire for males. A contract will be let in the spring of 1998 to draft a questionnaire for men. In addition to NCHS, NICHD and the Office of Population Affairs (DHHS) are contributing to this developmental work.
Target of Opportunity Four: Better Measurement of Father Absence and Presence
Rationale: Data on marital status and cohabitation cannot be used to measure father involvement, because unrelated males living in a household may be the children's father, some fathers see their children often and regularly even though they may not be living in the same household with them, and custody and visitation arrangements increase the difficulty of identifying the nature of father-child interactions. Children's living arrangements with their parents have been shown to have strong relationship to child outcomes, but questions on living arrangements and contact in most surveys do not measure father absence or presence accurately. This change would be a first step toward correctly measuring father-child living arrangements and involvement.
Implementation Status: The Data Collection Committee of the Forum will review how questions of cohabitation, contact and interaction are addressed in major federally sponsored surveys and in other routine data collection, such as vital statistics reporting. The Committee is to develop and report back to the Forum with a plan for identifying the best prototype questions and developing new questions, if necessary. The Committee should include recommendations on how to make this information available to sponsoring agencies in a timely fashion. A number of related activities are already underway:
As a result of the President's initiative and the Forum's interest in the issue of fatherhood, ASPE and NICHD have provided the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) with additional resources to expand the information available about and from nonresident fathers. Analysis of the expanded data collection should be available soon.
The Data Collection Committee has a project underway to examine how living arrangements are addressed in major national surveys.
ASPE has transferred funds to the Census Bureau to investigate the possibility of expanding male fertility and nonresident contact questions on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).
NCHS is in the process of working with states on the FY 2002 revision of the birth registration forms.
NCES has funded Child Trends to identify constructs and review existing father-child contact and involvement questions in major national surveys.
Target of Opportunity Five: Understanding the Role of Father Involvement in Child Development and School Readiness
Rationale: The ECLS-B is a new study that will provide information on young children's health and nutrition; physical, cognitive and social development; and child care, child development program and school experience. The ECLS-B will have a nationally representative sample of approximately 15,000 children. This study provides a significant opportunity to identify those aspects of father-child and father-mother interactions that affect young children's development over time. Including fathers is crucial because studies of school-age children and youth have shown that father absence is adversely associated with school performance and that resident and nonresident fathers can have positive effects on school performance, independent of mothers. Yet, at the same time, many previous studies have not found that father involvement influences the cognitive ability of young children. This study would allow us to begun understanding how and when fathers' influence on children's cognitive development and school performance develops.
Implementation Status: The contract for the ECLS-B design has been awarded to Westat. The scope of work includes provision of a module for fathers who live in the home, but no decision has been made on whether to try to interview fathers who do not live with the child. Developmental work has begin to determine the difficulty in finding nonresident fathers and to identify the most important questions that fathers should be asked. Funding options are being developed to ensure that sufficient resources are included in the survey to obtain information from non-resident fathers who continue to have an influence on their childs development and well-being.
Target of Opportunity Six: The Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood: Understanding the Relationship of Sexual Activity, Fertility, Marriage, and Parenthood to Educational Attainment and Labor Force Participation.
Rationale: The NLSY-97 provides a unique opportunity for examining how male sexual behavior, fertility, cohabitation, marriage and fatherhood affect the education, training, employment and income of young men and women. Longitudinal data obtained directly from young men will provide descriptive information on male behavior. Moreover, analytic data will support studies of how fertility, family formation and fatherhood affect labor force success and how labor force activities affect families and children. The previous youth survey (the NLSY-79) has been one of the most important survey instruments for increasing our understanding of the impact of fathering and family formation on the lives of young men because it interviewed young men directly and asked them questions about their fertility and fathering behaviors rather than gathering information from a secondary source. However, its analytic use would have been enhanced, if comparable data had been collected across all waves.
Implementation Status: An initial wave of data collection has been completed for the NLSY-97 that includes rich data on sexual and contraceptive behavior, cohabitation, marriage and fatherhood. Discussions are underway to determine how many of these questions can be included in the subsequent waves. NICHD has made a funding commitment to help in this effort and to include child support and child care questions as part of future efforts.
Target of Opportunity Seven: Developing a Better Understanding of the Meaning of Father Involvement
Rationale: Additional basic research is needed to expand the concept of father involvement, constructs should be included, and how those constructs should be measured. Conference participants identified the need to explore how the meaning of parenthood may differ for men and women and how the meaning and actions of fathering may differ by race, ethnicity, culture and income. Such research usually has to be done outside general survey work because participants need to be interviewed in-depth. Without an expansion of work in this area we will remain unsure that we are asking the right questions about fathering or are asking questions in the right way.
The Early Head Start (EHS) Research and Evaluation Project allows us to examine issues of fathering for low-income and minority parents who are married, cohabitating, dating, or no longer in a relationship, and who have relatively young children (less than two years of age). This is precisely the population that has been ignored in most of the studies of parenting behavior. Because these interviews would take place within the context of the much larger Early Head Start research project, it would also be possible to determine whether the study fathers were generally representative of a much larger group of fathers.
Implementation Status: Members of the Data Collection Committee are working with the EHS project to ensure that a direct connection between research needs and project design is maintained and that the results of the EHS project are shared and utilized to refine measures of father involvement. The Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project was identified as a potential laboratory in which marginalized fathers could be identified and studied. The project has a group of well-qualified, university-based, researchers at 15 EHS research sites who are interested in conducting research on the issues of fathering and on the relationship of fathering to child development. An EHS research consortium has been formed and has received planning money from the Head Start Bureau and ASPE to develop a collaborative research agenda on low-income fathers that addresses some of the theoretical issues that have been identified in the Forum sponsored research review. NICHD is providing core support and the Ford Foundation is considering funding for an in-depth sub study of fathers and infants.
Target of Opportunity Eight: Finding the Missing Men--Living Arrangements
Rationale: The Living Situation Survey(LSS) was developed as part of the Bureau of the Census' ongoing efforts to decrease undercoverage in the decennial census. About one-third of the coverage error in surveys occur because of errors made in compiling household rosters, and error rates are higher for minorities, males, young adults, nonrelatives, and persons with tenusous attachment to households. Fathers, especially young adult, minority, never-married fathers, who are not located or are not included in the survey process at all are undercounted in large scale sample surveys, including the decennial census. This undercount varies by age and race and also appears to be greater for never-married fathers than for previously-married fathers. One of the reasons for this undercount is that many young-adult minority men do not permanently reside in any one household. They may live for a few weeks with their parents, move in with a girlfriend or other friends for a while and then stay with a sibling. Frequently no one considers the young man a member of their household. Because the undercount is heavily concentrated in populations of high policy interest, improvements in coverage have the potential of improving our data on a wide range of areas including fertility and family structure, income and child support, victimization, health and risk behaviors. The LSS has been pretested on a national probability sample of one thousand households. The results of that test were quite promising.
Implementation Status: Census Bureau researchers are proposing a field experiment in July of 1999 to evaluate the efficacy of modified and expanded roster probes for possible implementation in Census Bureau household surveys. The field experimentation would be followed by ethnographic follow-up interviews to further explore causes of omissions. NICHD has made a commitment of $100,000 to the Census for further development work and testing of the methods employed in the Living Situation Survey. This work will provide important information, but a full scale test of the LSS as a part of a national survey would provide higher quality and more definitive information.
Target of Opportunity Nine: Finding the Missing Men: Special Populations
Rationale: Fathers in the military and in prison are part of the undercount problem. Like the lack of permanent living arrangement, the absence of these populations from national surveys distorts the identification of who and where fathers are and how they affect their children's development. Moreover, the household sampling frame for most of our national surveys would continue to exclude these populations even if we expanded the definition of living arrangement in those surveys. Prison surveys indicate that over two-thirds of the men in prison are fathers; given the relatively young age of men in prison, many have children who are still minors. Some urban areas are heavily affected by the criminal justice system, with 25% or more of young men in jail or prison. Similarly, men in military barracks are missing from household sampling frames as well. Methods should be identified that permit these populations to be included in our surveys, or special surveys of these populations should be developed so that they can be combined with, or be used in conjunction with, other national data collection efforts.
Implementation Status: A subcommittee of the Data Collection Committee has been formed to explore improving data collection and comparability of data collection of institutionalized populations. The subcommittee is chaired by the National Institute of Justice with participating members from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, The Administration for Children and Families/ Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, and National Center for Health Statistics. We are exploring with the Department of Defense whether they would like to co-chair this effort which would be expanded to cover military personnel or lead a parallel effort.
Target of Opportunity Ten: Expanding Data Collection Sources
Rationale: One of the most complex data problems involving fathers is that it is difficult to collect any information about nonresident fathers. Direct interviews of resident and nonresident parents double the cost of collecting information and information asked of the resident parent, about the parent who lives elsewhere, is often unreliable. There is currently an expansion of information being collected at the state level on nonresident parents as part of new mandates on the child support enforcement system. These mandates may make it possible to add some income, employment and location information to survey data without conducting two interviews.
Implementation Status: The State and Local Data Committee will explore the feasibility of testing the use of state administrative data to augment national survey data about families. The Committee will review current efforts, and identify issues and constraints, e.g., privacy, informed consent, and survey integrity.
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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