More Evidence that Father Involvement is Good For Kids

In recent years researchers and community practitioners have observed an apparent increase in both men's involvement in caring for children and fathers' participation in programs and services for families. These observations have prompted researchers to assess increases in father involvement and also to study and understand the contributions that fathers might make to child development. FIRA's Kerry Daly and Jessica Ball, have both co-authored articles* which have looked at the empirical evidence about the effects of father involvement on children's outcome.
*(See, The Effects of Father Involvement, - An Updated Research Summary of the Evidence (Allen and Daly) and Father's Involvement as a Determinant of Children's Health (Ball, Moselle and Pedersen in our Resources section.  Search by authlr name.).

Research reviews of this nature are not designed to prove that fathers are essential, but rather to show why fathers should be included and their needs taken into account when delivering programs and services for families and designing policies aimed at enhancing children's social, emotional and physical health.

The most recent review of evidence of the effects of father involvement is Fathers' Involvement and Children's Developmental Outcomes: A systematic review of longitudinal studies, published in the February 2008 edition of Acta Paediatrica. Lead author, Dr. Anna Sarkadi, a public health sciences researcher from the Department of Women's and Children's Health at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, says she came to this line of inquiry unexpectedly. "I was doing post-graduate work in Melbourne Australia, planning a study on infant colic," Sarkadi explains. "I decided that we should ask fathers as well as mothers about their experiences. In the literature about colic it was always mothers who were interviewed. It struck me as strange that we had no knowledge about colic based on the observations of fathers." Sarkadi's supervisor, Frank Oberklaid, of the Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, challenged Sarkadi to show why fathers should be included in the study.

Subsequent discussions led Sarkadi to work with Dr. Oberklaid and fellow Swedish public health researchers Robert Kristiannson and Sven Bremberg to design a review of longitudinal evidence on the effects of father involvement on children's developmental outcomes. "Most of the reviews of literature I found were cross-sectional," Sarkadi explains. "They assessed child development and father involvement at the same point in time, so it was hard to say if there was any cause and effect. Our review included only studies that assessed father involvement and child development outcomes at least one year apart, which we felt would show stronger evidence that the father involvement had an impact on the child outcome that was being measured."

Sarkadi's review, which looked at studies using different measures of father involvement including, father presence in the home, involvement in child care and direct engagement with children, found that all but two studies reported positive effects of father involvement on a range of specific outcomes including:
  • enhanced cognitive development during infancy
  • better than average social functioning in childhood
  • higher educational attainment
  • decreased likelihood behaviour problems in adolescence
  • lower rates of delinquency and criminal behaviour
  • reduced likelihood of regular smoking

These findings are similar to those reported by Allen & Daly and Ball, Moselle & Pedersen, in papers archived on this website, although each paper takes a different approach to assessing effects of father involvement.

Sarkadi says that some questions remain unanswered, such as what exactly constitutes the optimal kind of father engagement and also the possible differing effects of involvement from biological fathers and other father figures. However, she feels that her paper provides sufficient evidence to encourage both professionals and policy-makers to take steps to support and enhance father involvement with children. "For example, I would encourage professionals to ask about and encourage a father's engagement with his children, and to speak directly to the father and seek his opinion during consultations," she says. "I also think that educating fathers about the important role they can play in their child's social and development may be a good way to promote greater father involvement."

Read the full text of Fathers' Involvement and Children's Developmental Outcomes: A systematic review of longitudinal studies.

Source: Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F., & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers' involvement and children's developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Paediatrica, 97(2), 153-158.