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Study Finds Fathers Crucial to Child Development

New America Media, News Report, Inga Buchbinder Posted: Jul 31, 2009

Elmer Ramirez used to avoid dealing with problems in his relationship with his wife Pamela Nell, whether they pertained to household chores or their daughter. But after participating in a research study, he has learned that his involvement as a father has an enormous impact on his family.

Before, I just ran away, went to another room, watched TV, Ramirez said. That doesnt happen anymore. Now we talk about it.

Ramirez and his wife spent 18 months in a study that focused on providing fathers skills to help them become more involved in their childrens lives.
Numerous studies have documented the role of mothers in childrearing, but The California Department of Social Services, Office of Child Abuse Prevention aimed to show that fathers also could have a significant impact.

The research groups met in Family Resource Centers in four California counties. The study was comprised of roughly 300 families, two-thirds of whom were Latino.

All three of the sample groups focused on fathers impact on their childrens cognitive and emotional development and wellbeing. The first group was made up of couples, the second of single fathers.

These two groups spent 16 weeks meeting once a week for a three-hour session. The third group was the control group, which attended only one three-hour group session.

To be honest with you, I didnt really want to do it. I did it for my wife, Ramirez said.

The study found that children whose fathers had become more involved in their daily care did not show any increase in aggressive behavior or hyperactivity over the next two years, according to Supporting Father Involvement researcher Carolyn Cowan.

However, Cowan added, children of the parents in the control group increased their behavior problems in the same time period.

The research suggests that a fathers increased involvement in his childs daily life provides emotional benefits for both the child and the parents.
In order to best reach the participants, the research sites worked to make sure the sessions were both clinically and culturally competent.

Sessions were taught at the participants literacy level, according to Duetron Kebebew, program director at the site in Watsonville. Rather than readings and lectures, the program focused on peer-to-peer education in addition to using role-playing and video to introduce topics.

Ramirez admits that he enjoyed the first session because of the other couples that were participating. [I learned how] to be more patient with my daughter and with my wife too, Ramirez said.

The study is unique for several reasons: It is one of few studies to focus on the role of fathers in childrearing. It also focuses on the five integral aspects of life: self- esteem, a couples relationship, the parent-child relationship, family legacies or rituals, and community support and stressors. Unlike other studies, each group has a male and female facilitator, which organizers say provides a model to encourage shared responsibilities.

The whole idea of this study is the same- boat phenomenon, said Lawrence Ferber, a group leader in North Richmond. The therapeutic value of one father helping another father is unparalleled.

I learned that putting a plate on the table and putting a roof [over our heads] is not (the only thing that makes you) a father, said Gil Ruiz said, who participated with his wife in the couples group in Watsonville, Calif.
Parents who attended the meetings together, as opposed to the fathers only group, reported that their parenting stress declined and the quality of their relationship remained stable, according to Cowan.

Four times a year, the study hosted a social gathering with food, networking and community support.
At that time when I was participating in that group I was unemployed, Ruiz said. And through some of my relationships that I developed with some of the participants, I was able to get a job.

The benefits we see [of the study] are going to be hard to record, said Tracy Ward, a group leader in Contra Costa County.

The socials help facilitate a village for families to get the help and support they need from other parents and couples as well as professionals. You hear constantly that it take a village [to raise a child], but no one is creating the village, Kebebew said.

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