Programs designed to help families should focus on co-parenting, but too many parenting programs leave Dad on the sideline or lock him out, according to a review of programs worldwide.
"Overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates the unique and important role that fathers play in their children’s development. The effects are profound and wide-ranging, in terms of children’s biological, physiological, and psychological wellbeing, as well as in their behavioral, social, and educational outcomes throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence, even into adulthood. Fathers make a difference when it comes to children’s survival, self-esteem, academic performance, emotional and behavioral problems, substance misuse, criminality and delinquency, peer relationships, sexual partnerships, and economic prospects, as well as their capacity for empathy and life satisfaction," wrote Catherine Panter-Brick, from the Yale School of Public Health, on the Child and Family blog.
As she and colleagues examined parenting programs, they found seven barriers to effectively bringing in fathers: "cultural, institutional, professional, operational, content, resource, and policy biases." Those "work to marginalize fathers from the outset in the design of parenting programs," she wrote.
Besides marginalizing the role that fathers play in family life and its importance, the reviewers concluded, the programs also provided less evidence on what works to involve fathers, for that very reason. Panter-Brick and others suggest that programs should make a much greater effort to engage both mothers and fathers so children will reap the greatest benefit.
Increasingly, research shows dads matter, as the Deseret News and The Atlantic explored last year in a series on the topic. Among other things, research proves that fathers impact and enhance a child's development across different domains, while families with absent fathers are much more likely to live in poverty and suffer the consequences that come with inadequate resources.
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, "Many people are surprised at what research shows with respect to the connection between father absence and an increase in social problems in America, including poverty, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, physical abuse, suicide, substance and alcohol abuse and a host of other troubling social problems. The sad fact is that not only does father absence hurt children, fathers suffer as well."
That the role of fathers has received so much study and attention is good news, and programs are beginning to embrace the message. More efforts are focusing on folding dads into programs — and creating programs specifically to improve father skills and involvement.
A recent article on California Health Report noted that programs are being built around effective fathering strategies. The Contra Costa County First Five program until recently focused exclusively on mothers. No more. The program has extended its hours but also shifted to home visits to help dads who are increasingly home, but not necessarily keyed into parenting programs that could benefit them and their children, the article said.
The Census Bureau says one-third of children live in homes with the biological father absent. That fact does not mean children should be living biological-father-absent lives. To boost father-child relationships, the fatherhood initiative has published a Father Facts 6 reference manual.
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