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The dad who is too busy to play with kids or help out is mostly fiction, survey says

Published: Friday, Jan. 3 2014 6:40 p.m. MST

A parenting survey by the federal government finds that dads who won't diaper or play with kids are probably more fiction than fact.

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A parenting survey by the federal government finds that dads who won't diaper or play with their kids are probably more fiction than fact.

Although fewer fathers live with their children than in previous generations because of nonmarital childbearing and other factors, the fathers who do live with their kids are more involved in those youthful lives, according to a report on paternal involvement released recently by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Using a national sampling of fathers age 15 to 44, the center looked at dad involvement from 2006 to 2010 among two groups: those with young kids up to age 5 and those with older kids age 5 to 18. Since the questions were first asked in the center's survey in 2002, father involvement has increased slightly.

This matters a great deal "because others have found the more involved dads are, the better the outcomes for their children," researcher and report co-author Jo Jones told the Associated Press.

A growing body of research shows that fathers are very important to their children's lives. For example, a study by researchers at Brigham Young University pointed to their role in helping children become persistent. Other research shows that teenage girls are less likely to become pregnant if they have a good relationship with their fathers.

The authors of the new report noted previous studies linking father involvement with greater likelihood a child would do well in school and not become a delinquent or use drugs.

For the younger kids, the report considered activities like eating with or feeding the children, bathing, diapering and dressing children, playing with them and reading to them. Among the older kids, the survey asked about daily conversations, eating meals together, helping with homework or making sure it was done, and taking kids to and from activities.

The fathers were also asked to rate how they are doing as dads. Choices ranged from "a very good job" to "a bad job." About 90 percent of the fathers said the were doing a good job or better.

The researchers considered both biological and adoptive fathers, as well as "de facto" fathers who live with stepchildren or a partner's children. It also noted living arrangements and whether the men have children who live with them or children who live elsewhere. In some cases, the fathers surveyed have both. In all cases, the survey asked about activities within the four weeks before the survey was conducted.

About 23.5 million men in that age range lived with one or more children, while about 7.5 million lived apart from one or more biological or adopted children, with overlap.

Generally, and "as expected," the report said, more fathers who lived with their young children helped with tasks like diapering and bathing than did those who did not live with their children. And a higher percentage of older fathers had not eaten with or fed their young children, compared to the young dads. College-educated fathers were more likely to have eaten with the children who don't live with them than were less educated young fathers.

The researchers found that among dads living with younger kids, 90 percent helped with diapering, dressing and bathing at least a few times a week. More played with their children and ate meals with them, while two-thirds read to the kids.

For the dads who lived with the older kids, more than 90 percent had meals with and talked to them at least several times a week. Two-thirds took an interest in the childrens' homework. About half took kids to and from some activities a few times a week.

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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