University of Wisconsin–Madison

Links between Involved Fathers and Positive Effects on Children

At fatherhood.gov, the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides many resources for fathers, practitioners, and government agencies, including these PSAs.

Feature

October | No. 5-2020

Tova Walsh
Tova Walsh, IRP Affiliate

More than 72 million men in the United States have at least one biological child. That’s 60 percent of all men in the country. Some are married or cohabiting, while others are single parents or have recombined with another partner. There are also men who fill the role of father even though they’re not legally recognized as such.

Figure 1. Sixty percent of American men have at least one biological child.
Figure 1. Sixty percent of American men have at least one biological child.
Source: L. M. Monte, “Fertility Research Brief,” Current Population Reports, P70BR-147, March 2017.

Involved fathering is sensitive, warm, close, friendly, supportive, affectionate, nurturing, encouraging, comforting, and accepting. It is associated with positive effects on children beginning even before birth. Fathers themselves also benefit from caring involvement in their children’s lives.

After their child’s birth, involved fathers are associated with

  • children’s higher academic achievement;
  • greater school readiness;
  • stronger math and verbal skills;
  • greater emotional security;
  • higher self-esteem;
  • fewer behavioral problems; and
  • greater social competence than is found among children who lack a caring, involved father.

Growing evidence linking involved fathers with benefits for children has led policymakers, pediatricians, child support agencies, and family-services practitioners to step up their efforts to support and encourage fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives.

Policy/Practice

Table. How policymakers and service providers can support and encourage positive father involvement.

Policymakers
Provide paid paternal leave to allow fathers to stay home and bond with their infants and care for sick children.
Fund public-service announcements promoting positive, involved fathers and modeling effective coparenting relationships.
Pediatricians
Involve fathers in health care discussions during appointments.
Social service providers
Improve “father-friendliness” of programs and help fathers take stock of what they are doing for their children and where they could do more.
Encourage positive coparenting to help facilitate nonresident father involvement with their children.
Child support caseworkers
Inquire about noncustodial fathers’ barriers to spending time with their children and offer to help facilitate visits.
Home-visiting providers
Engage fathers in programming, either in concert with or separate from maternal home visits (see below).

Father Engagement in Home Visiting: Benefits, Challenges, and Promising Strategies. National Home Visiting Resource Center Research Snapshot Brief, James Bell Associates and Urban Institute

Research identifies the following challenges in engaging fathers in home visiting and promising practices to address these challenges:

Challenges

  • Misperception that home visiting is just for mothers
  • Staff resistance to including fathers and inadequate training
  • Maternal gatekeeping and mothers wanting to keep home visits private
  • Relationship and safety concerns especially when there is a history of intimate partner violence
  • Scheduling conflicts when finding times for both parents

Strategies

  • Assure that recruitment, enrollment, and outreach is father-friendly
  • Use flexible scheduling practices
  • Implement staffing practices that involve fathers, like hiring male staff
  • Tailor program content and delivery for fathers

Trauma-Informed Approaches for Programs Serving Fathers in Re-Entry: A Review of the Literature and Environmental Scan, U.S. HHS OPRE Report #2018-69

Key findings from a review of evidence on trauma among fathers in re-entry and trauma-informed responsible fatherhood programs include:

  • Trauma is prevalent among fathers who are re-entering society
  • Trauma may complicate the experience of men in fatherhood programs
  • Implementing a trauma-informed program requires an organization-wide trauma-informed approach
  • All staff must be trained to recognize and respond to signs of trauma
  • Programs should screen all participant for signs of trauma and refer fathers to gender and culturally appropriate services
Related IRP Research
Focus
Do Low-Income Nocustodial Fathers “Trade” Earlier Families For Newer Ones? Lawrence M. Berger*, Maria Cancian*, Angela Guarin, and Daniel R. Meyer*, July 2019
Fast Focus
Webinar
Role of Fathers in Children’s Health, Tova Walsh*, Darryl Davidson, and Craig Garfield, February 2020
Strategies for Involving and Engaging Fathers in Programming, Tova Walsh*, Lauren Zach, Patrick Fendt, and Darryl Davidson, March 2019
Podcast
Other Research
Websites and Briefs
Kids with Incarcerated Parents, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, Blog
Encouraging Attendance and Engagement in Parenting Programs: Developing a Smartphone Application with Fathers, for Fathers, Rekha Balu, Shawna Lee, and Samantha Steimle, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation Report 2018-68, July 2018
Reports
Effects of Four Responsible Fatherhood Programs for Low-Income Fathers: Evidence from the Parents and Children Together Evaluation, Sarah Avellar, Reginald Covington, Quinn Moore, Ankita Patnaik, and April Wu, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation Report 2019-05, January 2019
Father Reentry and Child Outcomes, Terry-Ann Craigie, Eleanor Pratt, Marla McDaniel, Urban Institute, November 2018
Model Practices for Parents in Prisons and Jails: Reducing Barriers to Family Connections, Bryce Peterson, Jocelyn Fontaine, Lindsey Cramer, Arielle Reisman, Hilary Cuthrell, Margaret Goff, Evelyn McCoy, and Travis Reginal, developed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), in collaboration with the Urban Institute and Community Works West, July 2019
Journal
Taking Care of Mine: Can Child Support Become a Family-Building Institution?, Kathryn Edin, Timothy J. Nelson, Rachel Butler, and Robert Francis. Journal of Family Theory & Review, March 2019
Promoting Father Involvement in Early Home Visiting Services for Vulnerable Families: Findings from a Pilot Study of “Dads Matter”, Neil B. Guterman, Jennifer Bellamy, and Aaron Banman, Child Abuse & Neglect, February 2018
Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Case Study of School Counselors’ Experiences, Emily C. Brown and Casey A. Barrio Minton, Professional School Counseling, June 2018
Guide
Handbook on Children of Incarcerated Parents, 2nd ed., J. Mark Eddy, and Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, (Eds.), 2019