Research on Teen Fathers Prepares Student for Social Work Degree

Last Updated on September 28, 2015 at 10:48 am

Originally published September 25, 2015

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

Teenage fathers have been stereotyped as being absent from their children’s lives. Yet evidence suggests that an increasing number of young men want to be involved with their children.

“(Pregnancy) puts the responsibility on the girls, but there’s always a father and it was very interesting to find out what they were thinking,” said Arturo Jaime, Ph.D., a graduate from the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) Ph.D. program at The University of Texas at El Paso.

After graduating from the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) Ph.D. program at UTEP in 2014, Arturo Jaime, Ph.D., has gone back to school to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a social worker. Photo by J.R. Hernandez, UTEP News Service

Jaime, the former chief professional officer of Boys and Girls Clubs of El Paso, has worked with at-risk and high-risk youth in the community for more than 20 years. While researching topics for his dissertation last year, Jaime decided to explore how teen fathers talk about fatherhood.

Jaime conducted a study on unwed adolescent fathers of Mexican origin. He interviewed a group of 18- and19-year-old unwed fathers from different parts of the city. Participants were asked two main questions: What does fatherhood mean in your life? What does fatherhood mean in society?

The teenagers told similar stories of how their fathers were either absent during their childhood or had completely abandoned them. Unlike their dads, the young fathers were determined to be part of their children’s lives.

“I found in my research that a lot of the youth were referring to a father wound because many of their fathers were absent,” Jaime said. “But now that they are fathers they want to repair what they didn’t have in their own lives. They said, ‘My father was never there for me, but I’m going to make sure my son doesn’t go through what I went through.”

In 2011, more than 20 million children lived in homes where their biological fathers were absent and 5 million of these children were Hispanic.

Jaime hoped his study would provide insight into the discourse of unwed adolescent fathers and identify opportunities to affect policy and programs in order to strengthen single-parent families and improve health outcomes for children.

“One of the things that I found through my research is that marriage and family structures are changing,” Jaime said. “Since 1970, there’s been a 40 percent increase in single-mother families. I want to be at the forefront of understanding through research what is going on and how we can address it.”

Jaime and his adviser, Leslie Robbins, Ph.D., assistant dean of graduate education in the UTEP School of Nursing, recently submitted a revised version of a manuscript on his study, which is being considered for publication in “Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers.”

The study has not only raised awareness about the important role of fathers in their children’s lives, but it also reignited Jaime’s ambition to become a social worker.

After earning his Ph.D. in December 2014, Jaime decided the time had come to combine his 26 years of experience in the nonprofit sector with his passion for helping others. He started the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at UTEP in June.

“I went for my Ph.D. because I was interested in the research component,” Jaime explained. “I’d been doing youth development work and I was interested in gaining skills to do research with that population. My research took me back around to where I saw the need for a clinical degree.”

Jaime graduated with a bachelor’s in social work from UTEP in 1993. He intended to pursue a graduate degree in social work, but a fellowship to Baruch College, City University of New York resulted in a 20 year delay. Instead, Jaime graduated with a master’s in public administration in 1997. Ten years later, he was accepted to the IHS program at UTEP.

Even though Jaime worked for several nonprofit organizations, he never considered himself a social worker because he didn’t have an MSW degree.

“Art is a ‘natural’ social worker – he would be drawn to helping others and his community even if he’d pursued a degree in physics – it’s simply who he is,” said Elizabeth “Beth” Senger, a lecturer in the Department of Social Work. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s already an expert social worker. So, his experience in the nonprofit sector simply better informs him about the challenges the sector faces at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.”

When he graduates from the social work program in 2017, Jaime plans to work with adolescents with mental health issues.

During the fall 2015 semester, Jaime started his practicum at a mental health agency. He also expects to continue his research on unwed fathers.

“I grew up in a low income neighborhood where neighbors just helped each other,” said Jaime, now the assistant director of diversity programs at El Paso Community College. “My parents were always helping people and it was how I was brought up. So a (social work) career seemed very organic. I feel comfortable helping people. I think there’s never been a doubt in my mind that this is what I want to do.”

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