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Study: Fathers are forgotten by parenting programs

Updated 5:00 AM, Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fathers have a significant impact on the well-being of their children – an impact that begins even before the child is born. In fact, studies have shown that fathers involved in pregnancy have healthier children.

In the early years of life, emotionally nurturing relationships between children and children place the foundation for lifelong health and well-being for children. Fathers involved in pregnancy also tend to be involved in the long term. In fact, the positive influence of father involvement can be recognized during adolescents and adolescents.

Our research lab is studying father and child relationships, and we recently looked at the question: What parenting forms are there to support the fathers during prenatal and postnatal periods? Our study, published June 14th in the journal Pediatrics, suggested that there are not so many.

Not many programs

Specifically, our systematic review of American baseline programs for men during the perinatal period was investigated, ie, pregnancy throughout the first year of life. We were able to identify only 19 programs (of a total of 1,353 studies reviewed) which were considered "hazardous". Father-friendly was defined as an involvement or focus on fathers and including father-related results, such as father involvement, father interaction and father's parental knowledge.

Most programs were offered at the clinic or hospital. The programs ranged from general education programs (on childbirth, infant care and infant development) to relationships and parental programs to clinical and case management programs.

In addition to the small number of existing programs for fathers, most programs reviewed in systematic review lacked evidence to improve important father outcomes. Similarly, only three high quality studies were considered. These results show that there are no father-focused programs that provide promising results.

In terms of education and support during the perinatal period, research shows that there are few parenting programs to prepare men for the magic moment when they welcome their new baby, although this time has been identified as a critical window with the ability to intervene to support the fathers during the transition to paternity.

Most existing programs are primarily intended for mothers. This is a missed opportunity, because dads in the United States are increasingly involved in their children's lives. And the fathers today want to be involved not only as bread recipients, but also as caregivers who provide caring and responsive parenting.

Colorful Methods

Fathers and children's settings have fathers who participate in research reported feeling neglected. They are often seen as a secondary role for the mothers. This may mean that the father sees himself as a "helper" of the mother instead of a "parent" with the mother.

This neglect continues for several reasons. For example, healthcare professionals may be reluctant or insufficiently trained to work with fathers. Clinical services can not be sensitive to men's parental needs. Mothers can also restrict men from being involved in prenatal and postnatal services.

But men have an important role to play under infants. To help address the above mentioned obstacles, Michael Yogman and Craig Garfield, the pediatric faculty at Harvard Medical School and the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, recommended that healthcare professionals engage in hazardous methods. These include acknowledging the presence of the fathers in health care visits, welcoming fathers directly, educating fathers about parenting and encouraging dads to take early childcare.

Innovative Programs

Although there are not many yet, innovative parental education has targeted men during the perinatal period. One example is Dads Matter, a father-friendly home search program that can improve the fathers engagement with their children among socio-economically disadvantaged families.

Another emerging program is Baby Elmo. This is an interactive program that helps the fathers understand their children's emotional needs to support positive relationships between children and children. Baby Elmo is currently testing for its efficiency in low income communities.

Our research laboratory is implementing a father's commitment to low income fathers in collaboration with the Healthy Start home visitation program in Michigan.

Yet another promising program is to support father involvement of Philip Cowan, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Supporting father involvement is a group-based relationship program that has succeeded in promoting father's participation with young children.

In general, these programs help American children – especially those most at risk to live apart from their fathers – grow up in households where their fathers or figures of paper are positively involved in the beginning.

Fathers play a key role in children's lives, starting from the beginning of life. Their involvement in pregnancy is as important as the mothers involvement. We celebrate mothers on Mother's Day and offer several programs and resources to help women navigate in maternity.

 The conversation We also celebrate our fathers on Father's Day. However, we leave them with almost no resources to navigate the transition to paternity. This difference in services inevitably damages not only fathers, but also their children. It's time to change this story.


Joyce Y. Lee is a PhD student in Social Work and Psychology at the University of Michigan and Shawna J. Lee, Social Worker at the same university. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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