Summary of international research into supporting vulnerable communities and involving fathers.
Father-child relationships – be they positive, negative or lacking, and at any stage in the life of the child, and in all cultural and ethnic communities – have profound and wide ranging impacts on children that last a lifetime. These are present even after controlling for the impact of the mother-child relationship.
Vulnerable children from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to gain even more from a strong father-child relationship than do children from better-off families, and to suffer more when this is lacking. This is true, for example, for many children of teenage mothers. Involved fathers have significant and unfunded gains for women’s men’s and children’s lives.
The behaviour of both biological and social fathers impacts on children. Father figures can be highly influential in the lives of some children. Interventions to support father-child relationships can work well in bringing about change on the part of the father, but only if designed specifically.
They have been shown to lead to positive outcomes for children in controlled research. Active fatherhood can motivate positive changes in behaviour in men, including socially excluded and very young men. It can produce beneficial stability in the working life of these men.
Despite some specifications in policy, current service provision for vulnerable families is generally based on an assumption at odds with the evidence and with the child’s perspective – that fatherhood is an optional and marginally significant “add-on” for children, unlike motherhood, which is viewed an essential.
Father involvement has been shown to lead to positive outcomes for children in controlled research. Active fatherhood can motivate positive changes in behaviour in men, including socially excluded and very young men. It can produce beneficial stability in the working life of these men.
Engagement with fathers is, correspondingly, perceived as optional by public services, and is generally accorded low priority. This means that: Although some parts of Government encourage engagement with fathers and some services engage well with fathers, good practice remains rare and sporadic. Mainstream children’s services do not generally assess, or seek to strengthen, relationships between a vulnerable child and father and/or paternal relatives, and are particularly likely to fail to engage constructively with fathers who have problematic relationships with their children, despite the risks these pose to children.
Services underestimate the significance of the father to the child if the father is not visible to the service, is not living in the child’s home, and is not an obviously positive influence. They also assume that positive change by fathers is relatively unlikely. It has been argued (Stanley & Gamble, 2005) that there are three central motivations for engaging actively with men’s fatherhood: child well-being, gender equality and men’s development. These have been presented as a hierarchy. Recently Featherstone et al (2007, forthcoming) have argued that the interdependence between these three domains is so great, that a hierarchical approach is invalid.
There is enough sufficient high quality evidence to encourage researchers, policy-makers and service providers to develop strategies to engage routinely with fathers: for the well-being of children, for women and men together in both public and private spheres, for a sustainable and stronger society - and in the interests of social justice.
Source: Fatherhood Institute, UK