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Study Explores Reasons Why Some Fathers Are Disengaged From Families

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A new study identifies a number of risk factors that contribute to fathers having little or no involvement in the lives of their young children.

The analysis, from Mathematica Policy Research, based in Princeton, N.J., examined fathers' relationships with their children three years after they entered the Building Strong Families Program. The voluntary family-education program provides support and relationship skill-building for unmarried parents who are expecting or just had a baby.

According to researchers, the risk factors associated with fathers who had limited or no contact with their children three years after entering the program were:

  • The couple has a below-average relationship quality upon entering the program.
  • The father has a child from a previous relationship.
  • The father grew up without his own father in his life.

The study noted that fathers who were psychologically distressed at the beginning of the program were the most likely to have little or no contact with their children.

Researchers suggested that mental health services should be available for fathers participating in healthy marriage programs that counsel unmarried parents. They also suggest that more intensive supports should be targeted at fathers and couples who may have these risk factors.

The study was sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It included 5,000 couples, age 18 and older, participating in the program in eight locations nationwide. 

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