• Dec 2003/Jan 2004
  • Vol. 4, No. 10

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Positive Father-Child Involvement Found Among Early Head Start Families

A study of fathers of newborns involved in the Early Head Start program found fathers were involved with their children in multiple positive ways, despite difficulties that included parenting stress, financial problems, and symptoms of depression. Conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., in conjunction with the National Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project, this study focused on the involvement of 108 fathers during the first 14 months of their children's lives.

The study found:

  • Fathers often participated in prenatal activities with the mother, and were usually present at the birth or visited the child in the hospital shortly thereafter.
  • Fathers often participated in caregiving activities such as diapering, as well as play activities.
  • Participation in prenatal activities and presence at the child's birth were positively associated with participation in father-child activities during the course of this study.
  • The fathers' positive experiences with their own fathers were related to more frequent father-child activities.

The study also found more than one-half of the fathers reported high levels of parenting distress; moreover, parent-child dysfunctional interaction scores increased over time. In addition, while the proportion of fathers who reported providing frequent caregiving increased over time, the proportion of mothers who reported that fathers provided frequent caregiving decreased. Reasons for these discrepancies are unclear.

Although these findings are not generalizable to all low-income families, the results have implications for Early Head Start and similar programs. For example, the researchers suggest fathers should be encouraged to become involved in their children's lives even before birth, and mothers should be encouraged to support fathers in their parenting roles.

Additional data were collected when the children were 24 and 36 months of age. Future analysis of these data may provide greater insight into the impact of fathers on their children's development. A copy of this report can be obtained on the Mathematica website at www.mathematica-mpr.com/PDFs/redirect.asp?strSite=ehsnewborns.pdf.

Related Items

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) recently released a report indicating programs designed to increase child support payment and parenting involvement by non-custodial fathers are often successful in their goals. A copy of the report can be obtained on the ACF website at www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cse/pubs/2003/reports/fatherhood_programs/ responsible_fatherhood_programs.pdf.

For additional information about the role of fathers, see the following articles in previous issues of Children's Bureau Express:

  • "New Training Curriculum Helps Involve Fathers in Their Children's Lives" (October 2003)
  • "Literature Review Explores Non-Custodial Fathers' Involvement in Child Welfare" (April 2003)

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