Dissertation Defense Announcement

School of Social Work

University of Minnesota

Dissertation Defense Announcement

Examining the effects of fathers’ social support on parenting stress and potential for violence against women and children 

Ericka Kimball

Wednesday, July 11, 11:30am-12:00pm

Room 280, Peters Hall

All Faculty, Students, Staff and Others Invited


Parenthood is a life-changing event that requires preparation and understanding of a child’s needs. Since parenting skills are often acquired and not instinctual (Lamb, 1986), it is important to understand the process of how men learn to become parents. Men are often taught not to be caregivers (Parke & Beitel, 1986), resulting in a lack of experience in the role of caregiver and making them feel less skilled and less confident in their ability to parent (Lamb, 1986). Furthermore, men who were exposed to domestic violence as children may learn to use violence to solve conflict, deal with stress, and maintain control over another person (Straus, Gelles, & Smith, 1990). This may lead to an increased risk for perpetration of violence against women and children (Black, Sussman, & Unger, 2010; Margolin, Gordis, Medina, & Oliver, 2003; Stith et al., 2000; Wareham, Boots, & Chavez, 2009).

A review of literature provides the empirical underpinnings on the risks of parenting stress and child exposure to domestic violence and the benefits of social support. Using social learning theory and ecological systems theory as a guide, a conceptual framework was developed that provided a testable model of social support’s effects on parenting stress and the risks for violence against women and children. A national study of fathers was conducted to test this model. Participants were asked about their history of exposure to domestic violence in childhood and the type, amount and use of social support. They also completed three standardized measures on parenting stress, child abuse potential, and propensity for abusiveness.

The results of the study affirmed the protective nature of social support in reducing parenting stress and risks for violence against women and children. There were significant differences in parenting stress, child abuse potential, and propensity for abusiveness between fathers who reported exposure to domestic violence in childhood and those that did not report exposure. The availability of social support did have an effect on the level of parenting stress among non-exposed men but had no effect on parenting stress among exposed men. Surprisingly, those men reporting exposure who also reported higher use of their social supports had significantly lower scores on the parenting stress measure than those who had reported less utilization of social supports.

This research highlights the importance of assessing for and encouraging the use of social support in social work practice. Additionally, public policies need to be developed that actively encourage fathers beyond the focus on economic support. Finally, further research is needed to gain a better understanding of how exposure to domestic violence during childhood affects people throughout their lifespan.

Informal supports for children exposed to domestic violence

Yesterday, at the conference presentation I did, they began with by reading my bio. Basically it states my education and my research interests. I was presenting on ethical considerations with social media in social work. As usual, after the presentation, attendees will come talk to me about the presentation and seek resources. However, yesterday was unusual in the sense that a person came up to talk to me about my research interests. She wanted to talk to me about child exposure to domestic violence. I was super excited as I love talking about research and any information I can pass along about domestic violence and child exposure makes me happy. Her questions are the same I hear from many people–they know kids who are being exposed but don’t know what to do to help them. They are not necessarily looking for professional resources like therapy rather they are looking for things they can do on a personal level to help. I spoke with her about some of the things I have learned that have had a positive influence on children’s lives. The assistance doesn’t need to be directly related to the violence they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing. It can be highlighting and encouraging existing talents such as art, music, and sports. Or giving kids opportunities to experience new things. Mostly, it’s modeling caring relationships so kids can experience alternatives. These “interventions” are rather simple, but may make a huge difference. I think it’s a matter of gathering more information of informal supports and getting this information out to the general public.