Justin Harty, who knows the importance of fatherhood from many angles, came to SSA to pursue that interest as a Doctoral student because he was attracted by the work of one of the nation’s most prominent authorities on fatherhood, Associate Professor Waldo E. Johnson, Jr.
Because of Justin’s professional and personal experiences with the child welfare system, he also chose SSA because of the leadership of Mark Courtney, the Samuel Deutsch Professor and a national expert on foster care and the problems foster children face when they “age out” of the system.
Harty began his doctoral studies after two years of work as a caseworker for Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a child welfare agency in Chicago.
“As a caseworker, I worked with the fathers, but I realized I wanted to do more to help them. That’s why I chose to do research and pursue a PhD,” he says.
Harty, who with his wife has two daughters, aged 2 and 4, enjoys his role and sharing parenting duties with his wife, who works outside the home. He also knows first hand what it is like not to have a father at home.
When he was six years old, his father left the family and he, his two sisters, and mother received services through the Intact Family Program of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The program provided visiting rights with his father every other weekend, but after he was ten, the visits became less frequent.
Harty’s experience with real-world problems guided his college career at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in sociology and philosophy. “Philosophy teaches you how the world should be and sociology shows you how it really is,” he says.
Encouraged to work on the problems in the real world, Harty enrolled at the Jane Adams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He did field work at Lawrence Hall and then at DCFS before being recruited to be a caseworker at Lawrence Hall.
“I noticed all along the way that the judges, the attorneys, and often the caseworkers would lose sight of the father; they were the forgotten parent,” he says. That’s when he began to value the research of Johnson, who is chair of his dissertation committee.
At SSA, Harty has also worked with Courtney on foster care issues and is project coordinator for the CalYOUTH Study, a study of 16 to 21 year-olds who are in foster care in California. Courtney leads the project. Harty is also a research assistant for Dads Matter, which is a study conducted with four Chicago-area social service agencies of an intervention to increase father involvement through home visiting services.
He has co-presented conference presentations on issues of fathering and foster care and is co-author of two journal articles, “Assessing the Relationship Between Parental Influences and Wellbeing Among Lower Income African American Adolescents in Chicago (Child & Youth Care Forum) and “The Protective Effects of Religious Beliefs on Behavioral Health Factors Among Low Income African American Adolescents in Chicago” (Journal of Child and Family Studies).
“Justin is passionate about his potential to complement his extensive child welfare practice experience aimed at engaging nonresident black fathers in economically disadvantaged families with empirical research that transcends fatherhood and child welfare practice,” says Johnson. “The empirical research intersection of family engagement practice with nonresident fathers has lagged behind child welfare intervention practice.
“As a result, opportunities to improve individual, family, and field approaches engaging nonresident fathers are abound and offer important implications for paternal, family, and child wellbeing outcomes. Justin’s emerging research is long-overdue.”
Harty’s dissertation is entitled “Black Fathers in Foster Care: A Phenomenological Study of Adolescent Black Fathers in Foster Care in Chicago, Illinois.” Harty expects to defend his dissertation in 2021.
Because people can remain in foster care to age 21 in Illinois, some of the older teens become fathers and continue to have relationships with their child’s mother. Others do not, and Harty intends to study the population to determine what services might be best to serve their needs.
He plans to study 10 young men who live with their child and 10 who do not. The young people in his study receive help from UCAN’s Teen Parent Service Network, which provides them parenting training, information on topics such as child safety, and help from a specialized parenting caseworker.
“The crux of the Teen Parent Service Network program is the focus on mothers. There are few services focused on the needs of fathers. There are services for mothers that are adapted for fathers, but that really doesn’t work,” he says.
In working with young fathers in foster care, he has found that their attitudes toward parenting are very gender specific. Harty says encouraging the fathers to adapt a more egalitarian approach to parenting could help them enjoy fatherhood more, strengthen positive co-parenting, and increase their involvement.