A review by the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at Uppsala University, Sweden, found that a good relationship with a father figure had a positive effect that could last for decades.
“Our detailed 20-year review shows that overall, children reap positive benefits if they have active and regular engagement with a father figure,” says Dr Anna Sarkadi.
The researchers looked at 24 papers published between 1987 and 2007, covering 22,300 individual sets of data from 16 studies. The smallest study focused on 17 infants and the largest covered 8,441 individuals ranging from premature babies to 33 year-olds.
The authors believe that more research is needed to determine whether the outcomes are different depending on whether the child lives with their biological father or with another father figure.
The researchers also point out that it is not possible to conclude what type of engagement the father figure needs to provide to produce positive effects.
“The studies show that it can range from talking and sharing activities to playing an active role in the child’s day-to-day care.”
The researchers feel that it is important that professionals who work with young children and their families explore how actively fathers are involved with their children from an early age.
“Involving them in healthcare visits and explicitly seeking their opinions when making decisions could be a good way to promote high levels of engagement,” says Dr Sarkadi. “Stressing that fathers have an important role in promoting their child’s social and emotional development is another good strategy.”
Governments and employers also have an important role to play in ensuring that men can spend quality time with their offspring, stress the authors.
“Public policy has the potential to facilitate or create barriers to fathers spending time with their children during the crucial years of early development,” says Dr Sarkadi.