Study of Fathers’ Involvement in Permanency Planning and Child Welfare Casework . What are the effects of non-custodial father involvement on child well being?


A review of the literature on the effects of father involvement on child well being produces inconsistent information. Several studies have concluded that custodial fathers may provide children with significant advantages compared to children with non-custodial fathers. These advantages may include the promotion of healthy child development (Lamb, 1986 cited in Nord & Zill, 1996; Lamb, 1997 cited in Featherstone, 2001), higher participation in activities (Brown, Michelsen, Halle, & Moore, 2001) and socialization (McAdoo, 1993). Studies have also found that the absence of the father in the household may have detrimental effects on a child’s academic achievement, as well as emotional and social development (Gadsden, 1995; Graham, Beller, & Hernandez, 1994 cited in Garfinkel, McLanahan, and Robins, 1994; Johnson, 2001). These decrements may be the result of lower financial resources when a parent is absent (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994).

When children have non-custodial fathers, studies suggest that the involvement of these fathers can have positive effects on their children. First, father involvement through financial contributions (i.e. child support payments) has been associated with positive benefits including higher academic achievement among children (Knox, 1996) and fewer behavior problems (Jackson, 1999; Perloff & Buckner, 1996). These positive benefits, however, appear to be conditional on the traits of the parent. For example, negative behaviors of the parent, such as substance abuse, are associated with increased child behavior problems (Perloff & Buckner, 1996). Thus, the type of parenting and quality of involvement appear to play an important role.

While several of the above studies provide evidence of the benefits of both custodial and noncustodial father involvement on child outcomes, a number of studies yield conflicting information. In a study by Furstenberg and colleagues (1987) on non-custodial paternal involvement, little evidence was gained to suggest either harmful or beneficial impacts on child well-being as a result of father participation in their child’s life (Furstenberg, Morgan & Allison, 1987). However, this study found a modest indirect effect of noncustodial paternal economic support on child problem behavior (Furstenberg et al., 1987). Similar inconclusive results have been obtained in other studies as well, suggesting few effects associated with custodial father involvement (Hawkins & Eggebeen, 1991) and no distinct patterns of noncustodial father participation in relation to child intellectual and psychosocial functioning (King, 1994). Thus, there currently appears to be a lack of consensus about the weight of the evidence on this topic.