As Father’s Day approaches, retail sales are everywhere. Yet although fathers have a secure place in the annual sales calendar, their role in the lives of their children is underappreciated by government at every level.
Too many children, including here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, lack the benefit of being raised by both parents. Usually it is the father who is absent. In Philadelphia, for example, 60 percent of children live in a single-parent household. Of all single-parent households, 83 percent are mother-only households and 17 percent father-only.
Social research strongly suggests that a father’s absence from a child’s life has a negative impact on child well-being throughout the child’s formative life and beyond. Negative effects include economic deprivation, increased probability of later incarceration, double the probability of dropping out of high school, greater likelihood of smoking and use of alcohol and drugs, plus higher risks of economic, physical, and emotional neglect.
Further, the tendency of child protective services is still to focus on serving mothers despite research highlighting the important role of fathers in their children’s development. “Current policy regarding child protection services places increasing demands for providers to engage fathers whose children are involved in the child protection process. Implementation of this policy clashes with the ongoing challenges that fathers have historically faced in working within these systems” (“Engaging Fathers in Child Protection Services,” Children and Youth Services Review, August 2012).
The current policy and practice of state intervention in family affairs suffer from an institutional and cultural bias that undervalues the role of fathers. This Father’s Day, let’s take time to reflect on the pressing need to help all fathers become fully involved in the lives of their children. Let’s hope, too, that those who provide children services of all types will make a greater effort to include fathers in their programs. For those fathers affected, the added time spent with their children would be far more appreciated than a new necktie.
My thanks to Rufus S. Lynch of The Strong Families Commission for educating me on the urgent need for father involvement.