Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Even absent dads boost learning, adjustment and caring in kids - if they're involved

I wrote this for the Evening Herald, published 15th June 2007: Would you like to see more children growing up to be industrious, better educated and less likely to get in trouble with the law?

A report out this week from Barnardos suggests that one way to do this is to encourage fathers to be more involved with their children.

If that sounds blindingly obvious, just take a moment to look at some of the benefits outlined by Barnardos when launching the report on its “Da” project:

- Children are more likely to do well in primary school when their father shows kindness, care and warmth towards them at an early stage.

- Children are more likely to learn when their father shows a keen interest in learning.

- Children are more likely to be productive, industrious and caring members of society if their father takes an active interest in them.

- Children are less likely to end up in the criminal justice system when they have had regular contact with their father before the age of 11.

Living as we do in the age of the expert when everything must be made complicated, it’s heartening to see that such impressive benefits can flow from ordinary human warmth and involvement.

But bringing about this level of involvement by fathers is not necessarily a simple matter.

According to Barnardos’ “Da” project leader, Finola Halligan, most fathers want to be more involved in their children’s lives but family break-down, work demands and other obstacles stand in their way.

And Barnardos’ Francis Chance added that “too often fathers are invisible when state, community and voluntary services work with families.”

Barnardos’ findings, based on a project in Ballyfermot, are supported by research elsewhere. Recent research in the UK, for instance, found that children whose separated fathers stay involved with them are less likely to get into trouble than those whose fathers are uninvolved.

The growth in marriage breakdown and therefore in the number of one parent families makes it all the more important that obstacles to a father's involvement with his children should be tackled.

Recent census figures show that fewer than one in five households in Dublin city are now made up of the traditional family of husband, wife and children. Indeed, the number of traditional households actually declined in the main cities between 2002 2006.

One person households, on the other hand, continue to increase and more than 17% of these were made up of a separated, divorced person or married person living alone.

We must also take into account the number of cases in which the parents of a child have never lived together. In such cases, the risk of poor involvement by the father is probably higher than in that of separated, previously married parents.

Given that access to children can become the subject of legal battles, surely it is also time to allow the media to report proceedings in the family courts without identifying the participants? A recent report by Ireland's court reporter, Dr Carol Coulter, found that most issues of access to the children are settled amicably and without a court appearance. But some separated fathers responded that this is because men feel they will get a raw deal from the court and that they have no option but to settle on the steps, perhaps for less access than they really want. The way to settle the argument is to allow the media into the family courts.

But the overall message from this week’s Barnardos report is that such old-fashioned human qualities as love, caring and warmth really do make a difference to children and to the adults they become.

Related post:

Quiklink: Barnardos' 'Da Project' highlights important role of fathers in childrens' lives

1 comment:

Rodrigo said...
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