New project will make UK cohort studies more father-inclusive

4 March 2019

Last year, we published our Nuffield Foundation-funded report Where’s the Daddy? (part of the Contemporary Fathers in the UK series) which explored the complex question of how researchers collect data about British fathers.

We discovered that all too often, they don’t – because their definitions of ‘family’ focus only on ‘full-time resident adults and children in one household’; and they fail to distinguish between birth-, adoptive-, foster-, step-fathers, and mothers’ (or in the case of gay father-headed households, fathers’) partners.

Following on from that work we are delighted to now be working with the Scottish Centre for Social Research on an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project to design practical options for identifying, contacting, recruiting and retaining different ‘types’ of ‘non-resident’ father in future studies – ranging from those who provide regular overnight care to their child, to those who have intermittent or no contact.

Our focus will be birth fathers of cohort study members during childhood/ adolescence/ young adulthood sweeps. Our report might inform the design of a potential new birth cohort study and a new young adulthood sweep of the Millennium Cohort Study, as recommended in the ESRC’s Longitudinal Studies Review’s report (Davis-Kean et al, 2018). It could also inform future sweeps/ cohorts of Growing Up in Scotland and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

The objectives of our project are to:

(i) develop tailored recruitment/ retention options for sub-categories of ‘non-resident’ fathers (Goldman and Burgess, 2018);

(ii) propose a set of identifying questions (about the child’s father) for use in interviews with mothers, for subsequent testing and future harmonised use across longitudinal studies. The fathers may be part-time resident (providing regular overnight care to the cohort child); or if truly non-resident may provide regular daytime care or have regular/ intermittent face-to-face contact, remote/ indirect contact or no contact at all, with changes over time (Haux and Platt, 2015). Within later sweeps of a cohort study, we could differentiate ‘non-resident’ fathers who participated at a previous sweep (e.g. in a resident partner interview so can be tracked as household leavers) from those who have not participated. We would seek to devise an approach which exploits repeat data collection to allow changes in categorisations of a ‘non-resident’ father to be captured at different waves and to recruit those fathers to the study at the point most likely to result in high response. Our innovative approach contrasts with attempts to contact and recruit ‘non-resident’ fathers as an undifferentiated category in a one off exercise, likely to generate relatively low response and retention rates overall. 

Our methodology and outputs will be as follows:

(i) we will investigate methodological work and attempts to track, contact, recruit and retain ‘non-resident’ fathers in the UK and abroad (e.g. building on Kiernan 2014 and Bryson, 2014).

(ii) we will scope and critique questions used to date (mainly in interviews with mothers) to identify each sub-category of ‘non-resident’ fathers (building on Goldman and Burgess, 2018).

(iii) we will draft, and possibly test (subject to additional funding), father-identifying questions for mother-interviews, summarising this in our Output (our 10-page report).

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