Fathers Play Key Role in Improving Birth Outcomes

The Children’s Services Council (CSC) of Palm Beach County has created an integrated service system to promote and support the healthy development of children, with a particular focus on the first five years of life. In 2004, CSC engaged researchers at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago to conduct a five-year longitudinal study to learn more about how services are used and the effects of services on the well-being of families and children in Palm Beach County. This brief discusses findings relevant to the topic of parenting and particularly the role of fathers in children’s development.

What We Did

Through a combination of data collection with 310 mothers surveyed all five years of the study and one-time qualitative interviews with 16 fathers and other male caregivers, Chapin Hall researchers explored the role of male caregivers in the lives of young children. We compiled our findings and their program and policy implications in this brief report.

What We Found

  • Male caregivers are just as likely to engage in nurturing and educational activities (e.g., singing songs and reading stories) with children as they are to take part in more traditional fathering activities (e.g., sports and outdoor recreation). Male caregivers saw these activities as an opportunity to model positive behaviors for their children.
  • Providing emotional support to mothers and providing financial support to households are two indirect ways male caregivers influence the care their children receive.
  • Male caregivers view their role as a father as securing a safe home and neighborhood; obtaining basic food, health care, and clothing for their children; and providing access to education, play, and recreational opportunities.
  • Only two out of the 16 male caregivers in the sample were direct recipients of social services, such as food stamps.

What It Means

These findings support the efforts of CSC to involve fathers in services such as home visiting, early childhood programs, and community-based efforts aimed at improving birth outcomes. Overall, our findings indicate that the amount and quality of father involvement is shaped by personal circumstances, relationships with partners, available time, beliefs and values, and financial resources. Our study points to the importance of thinking broadly about who is involved in caring for a child when designing services.

Father Involvement in Early Childhood Development