Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Social Work

Additional Affiliations

Brown School of Social Work

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Parent involvement is critical for students’ success in high school and in accessing college, especially in low-income and minority families. However, many schools have failed to engage low-income African American parents, thereby contributing to a popular narrative of uninvolved and uninterested parents. Traditional models of parent involvement have favored a narrow range of activities undertaken by white and middle class families and do not account for the wider social and cultural context in which parenting occurs. The purpose of this qualitative study was therefore to investigate (1) caregiver and adolescent perceptions of parent involvement in education and college planning for African American high school students, (2) barriers to involvement and resources that are drawn on, and (3) how perceptions of involvement might differ according to gender and family composition. The ultimate goal was to form a culturally and developmentally appropriate conceptualization of parent involvement in education and college planning for low-income African American high school students living in urban communities. In depth interviews were conducted with 24 caregivers and 23 students recruited through a community based college access program. Data was analyzed using a grounded theory approach.

Caregivers engaged in many activities that are included in traditional models: parents supported their children’s learning at school, at home, and in the community, they built their children’s motivation, and they laid a foundation on which learning could occur. Other types of involvement arose from the context in which the participants lived: parents navigated complex systems to gain access to particular schools and they taught their children how to confront discrimination. Barriers to involvement included lack of systemic knowledge, isolation in certain schools, stereotypes of African American families, developmental needs of the child, and time and money. Resources that caregivers drew from included extended family and friends, professional help, religious faith, self-reliance, and familial knowledge. Parent involvement different by gender principally in terms of racial socialization. The complexity and fluidity of the families in which the students lived made patterns of involvement according to family composition more difficult to discern. A conceptualization of parent involvement that incorporates these themes in addition to the individual and societal context is presented. Implications for social work research and practice are discussed.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Wendy F Auslander

Committee Members

Sheretta Butler-Barnes, Carol Camp Yeakey, Patricia Kohl, Molly Metzger,


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