Lauren-Jayne van Niekerk Presents “Father’s Involvement in their Children’s Early Learning and Development: Perceptions of South African Parents” at SCRD 2023

07 Jun 2023 | By Lauren-Jayne van Niekerk
A series of four photos in a grid from Lauren-Jayne Van Niekerk's visit to Salt Lake City for the SCRD Meeting
07 Jun 2023 | By Lauren-Jayne van Niekerk

The Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) 2023 Biennial Meeting was held on 23 – 25 March 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. The SRCD accepted my poster presentation titled, “Father’s Involvement in their Children’s Early Learning and Development: Perceptions of South African Parents” and has invited me to present at the SRCD 2023 Biennial Meeting.

Lauren-Jayne Van Niekerk standing next to her presentation poster

This Biennial Meeting hosted in the region of the 6,000 professionals and students globally, all with the goal of learning about and improving the lives of children. Most of the presenters conducted research in various areas of psychology, human development, and family studies, thus attendance will be valuable and beneficial.

My poster detailed the preliminary quantitative findings of my mixed methods PhD research.


Father’s Involvement in their Children’s Early Learning and Development: Perceptions of South African Parents

Authors: van Niekerk, L-J., Hoosain, S., and Ward, C.

Global research on father involvement has advanced significantly over the past four decades and has shown that an engaged father is a critical component of a child’s positive holistic development (Pleck, 2010; Cabrera et al., 2008; Richter & Morrell, 2006; Lamb, 2004; van den Berg et al., 2021; Cabrera et al., 2000). Despite this advance in knowledge, very little is known about father involvement in South Africa.

What we do know, however, is that two-thirds of South African children do not live with their biological father (Richter et al., 2012; StatsSA, 2017). Generally, male engagement studies in South Africa focus on this father absenteeism and its negative consequences, and so little is known about fathers who choose to be involved, often in the face of huge social and economic obstacles. This study aims to contribute knowledge towards this gap.

A mixed methods approach, using an explanatory sequential design, was used: quantitative data were collected using a questionnaire, and qualitative data through focus group discussions. Findings from these two sources are integrated so that one source reflects on the other. Both fathers’ and mothers’ perceptions of involvement were explored and compared to gain a comprehensive, holistic understanding of father involvement within a South African context, and this also worked towards limiting self-report bias. These findings are significant in that father involvement has been almost exclusively explored by taking into account only the maternal reports which often underestimate involvement. The sample was diverse in relation to socio-economic status, population group, education level, marital relationship, and father-child residential status.

Key to this study was an exploration and description of father engagement across socio-economic and education divides within South Africa by looking at a range of factors that affect a father’s understanding of the importance of their engagement, as well as their actual engagement, with their young children in care work and in play. This study highlights various context-specific determinants of father involvement, such as the necessary obligations and responsibilities of fathers, parental alliance, circumstantial sources of stress as well as social and structural factors that influence the nature of fathers’ care and practical involvement. It also demonstrates how father involvement patterns are changing as this new generation of fathers are adopting a set of contemporary cultural norms with higher levels of paternal care than they recall from their own fathers. This is aligned to the global shift in traditional gender roles and attitudes towards fatherhood. 

The study was underpinned by two theoretical models which informed and provided a lens through which to examine this study data, namely, Lamb's et al. (1987) Father Involvement Model and the Belsky Process Model (1984).

Preliminary results indicate that contemporary fathers perceive their paternal role as important to their child's development, have greater egalitarian beliefs about gender roles and childcare as compared to previous generations, and are thus more intentional in their engagement with their children. It appears that as men spend more time actively engaged in childcare and developmental play with their children, the less they adhere to patriarchal social norms. Thus, the understanding of ‘father involvement’ in the Global South is steadily expanding amongst contemporary fathers from financial provision to also include the provision of sensitive nurturing care. However, this study also argues that South African society has had a slower progression than fathers to ensuring equal parenting, specifically in terms of public policy, social structures, and attitudes.

Importantly, this study advances scholarship on male engagement in the Global South by investigating father involvement within various family forms, and by using paternal and maternal reports.