We already know that dads face numerous biases in the family court system. Now, a new study shows programs designed to help mothers and fathers become better parents often exclude dads to the detriment of their children.
Yale University professor Catherine Panter-Brick and her colleagues recently conducted a systematic review of literature that involved fathers and found 199 studies that presented evidence on fathers’ participation and impact in programs to support parents. The review included programs in countries like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom as well as smaller and lesser developed countries such as Turkey, Mexico, Iran and Niger.
By and large, they discovered a worldwide anti-father bias in the majority of these programs.
“At the moment, there is a great deal of room for improvement in both program parenting and evaluation,” Panter-Brick wrote. “Most parenting programs focus solely on mothers. Fathers are often sidelined.”
Panter-Brick and her colleagues identified seven barriers that work to marginalize fathers from the outset in the design of parenting programs: cultural, institutional, professional, operational, content, resource and policy biases.
As an example, Panter-Brick pointed to the United Kingdom where there is a system of health visitors that visit a home after the birth of a child and engages with the parent to ensure that the family’s setting is sanitary, hygienic and beneficial to the welfare of the child’s upbringing. Generally, Panter-Brick said, the timing of the visit is catered for a stay-at-home mom while the working father is often ignored.
“There are all kinds of ways in which the communication between health services and the parent is channeled to the mother,” Panter-Brick recently said in an interview with DadsDivorce. “So the ‘parenting program’ is actually a ‘mothering program.’”
The lack of resources provided for fathers is especially baffling considering an enormous amount of research has proven that having an involved father gives children social, cultural and economic advantages.
We also know that single-parenthood is costly on a number of different levels. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, there is a connection between father absence and an increase in social problems such as poverty, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, physical abuse, suicide, substance and alcohol abuse, and many more problems.
As was pointed out on the National Parents Organization blog, we spend countless dollars trying to cure the symptoms of fatherlessness without addressing the issue of fatherlessness itself.
Fortunately, Panter-Brick and her team did find several examples of innovation in how they incorporate fathers. In the U.S., she referenced the Supporting Father Involvement Program as well as Head Start for taking the lead in fostering relationships between fathers and children.
She also cited Niger’s “School for Husbands,” which seeks to get bring men together to talk about taboo issues such as women’s health and to become advocates for their children.
The more programs recognize the critical role fathers play and the more they work to incorporate both parents, the better off everyone will be.
“The community of care around a baby or a child is wider than just the mother,” Panter-Brick said. “The mother is a significant actor, but it is about all the people who care for that child, and that’s really the important message of the paper.”
Click here to listen to a full interview with Catherine Panter-Brick regarding her research and its significance.