Limited Father Involvement: Which Families Are Most at Risk?
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation
- High-contact nonresident fathers often provide substantial financial support for their children and have levels of paternal engagement and warmth similar to those of resident fathers
- Low-contact nonresident fathers typically provide little financial support for their children and often have poor relationships with their children and coparents
- Having a lower quality relationship with the mother at program entry and having a child from a previous relationship are risk factors for BSF fathers having little contact with their children three years after entering the program
- A father’s psychological distress around the time of his child’s birth emerged as the strongest predictor for poor father involvement outcomes three years later
Research shows that fathers who take an active role in their families can help foster a host of positive outcomes for their children. Data from the Building Strong Families (BSF) evaluation reveals which families enrolling in a set of healthy marriage relationship skills education programs were at greatest risk of having fathers with very limited involvement with their children within a few years after program entry. BSF was a voluntary program for unmarried parents who were expecting or had just had a baby. It offered groups sessions on relationship skills and other supports. The goal was to improve couples' relationships and ultimately increase family stability and child well-being.
This brief examines differences among nonresident BSF fathers and two distinct groups: (1) those in regular contact with their children and (2) those with little or no contact. It also looks at risk factors associated with limited father involvement.
Risk factors associated with fathers having little or no contact with their children three years after entering the program include poor relationship quality at program entry, the father having a child from a previous relationship, and the father having grown up without his own father present. Signs of psychological distress by the father at program entry emerged as the strongest predictor of his limited involvement three years later.
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