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The Long View on Reducing Child Abuse and Neglect

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May 9, 2014

I shudder every time I hear the phrase "child abuse and neglect." The notion that some parents abuse and neglect their children pains me. 

unc injury prevention research center One of the best strategies that organizations can use to reduce the risk that children will be abused or neglected is to implement specific efforts to increase the number of children with involved, responsible, and committed fathers in their lives. The use of this strategy has gained additional support from the results of a 20-year watermark project known as LONGSCAN (Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect), arguably one of the most significant projects ever undertaken in this country on the factors that lead to child abuse and neglect and its consequences. 

Researchers gathered interview data from more than 900 children. They followed these children from early childhood (before age 4) to adulthood, conducted 7 waves of interviews over 14 years with each child and his or her caregiver, and supported those interviews with teacher reports and reviews of records from Child Protective Services. 

With the objective to better inform practice and policy, the researchers summarized their findings within 3 areas common in discussions of child abuse and neglect--safety and health, permanency, and well-being. One of they key findings in ensuring the well-being of children is the role of the father. Specifically,

  • Father presence is associated with a number of improved outcomes, including better cognitive development and children's perceived competence.
  • The presence of a live-in boyfriend increases the risk for maltreatment, relative to the presence of a biological father or no father.
  • Some fathers may feel intimidated or inadequate as providers of child care.
  • Children who report more support from fathers were less depressed, more socially competent, and more socially accepted.

The implications of these findings for practice and policy, the researchers say, are:

  • Remove barriers to fathers’ involvement with their children.
  • Help fathers feel competent in parenting.
  • Convey to fathers and father figures how their children can benefit from their involvement.
  • All systems serving children (i.e. child welfare, health care, and education) should strive to include fathers.

These LONGSCAN findings support the many shorter-term studies on the benefits of father involvement for reducing the risk of child abuse and neglect.  

If you seek to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect, are you doing enough to increase father involvement?

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Topics: General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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