Fatherhood Institute Research Summary: Anti-social Behaviour and Fatherhood
- The Discourse
- The Research
- The Practice
Public discourse implicates fathers in their sons’ antisocial behaviour, in particular through alleged absence as ‘role models’; but also through their perceived inability or unwillingness to set limits on their children’s behaviour – to be a ‘firm hand’.
In fact, fatherhood and child/adolescent antisocial behaviour are powerfully linked – but not generally in the ways assumed in public discourse. Fathers can be negative, as well as positive ‘role models’. And while it is true that few anti-social males (or females) have experienced sustained, positive fathering, it is not inevitable or even likely that a boy growing up without a male ‘role model’ or without a warm and enabling relationship with an adult man will, per se, engage in substantial anti-social behaviour.
Furthermore, in post-industrial economies, with the increasing democratisation of the family and ongoing challenges to conventional (including gendered) power relations, traditional ‘firm hand’ fathering (detached, authoritarian) may be more likely to promote anti-social behaviour in children and young people than to help them develop resilience to it.
In research and policy, as in public discourse, many of the links between fatherhood and antisocial behaviour – set out on the next page, and evidenced and expanded later in this document) are missed. For example, there is a strong correlation between young fatherhood and previously identified anti-social behaviour in childhood and adolescence. However this usually goes un-remarked; as do fathers’ contributions to the development of anti-social behaviour in their daughters – which can be substantial.
How fathers contribute to, or help to protect against, the development of antisocial behaviour in either sons or daughters is poorly understood by the general public, and by policy makers and practitioners, although research is successfully unpacking some of these effects. And although the father’s role in some of the correlates of anti-social behaviour (notably educational failure) is beginning to be recognised and discussed, attention is not usually drawn to this as an indirect impact on the development of anti-social behaviour in children.
So – what are some of the key links between fatherhood and anti-social behaviour in children, young people, and the fathers themselves?
- Fathers’ personal qualities, beliefs, personal circumstance, understanding of child development, behaviour and so on impact, directly and indirectly on the likelihood of their children’s engaging in anti-social behaviour, or resisting this.
- Both the quality and quantity of father-child interaction are important; and this applies whether or not father and child live together full time.
- There are substantial correlations between positive, highly involved fatherhood and positive outcomes for children in terms of resilience to anti-social behaviour and its correlates (e.g. school failure)
- Children who see little or nothing of their fathers tend to idealise or demonise them, blame themselves for their absence, and suffer substantial distress, anger and self-doubt right through to adulthood. This is found even in relatively advantaged samples; and it is not unreasonable to conclude that this plays a part in some children’s engagement in anti-social activities
- Fathers impact on mothers’ behaviour and circumstances – which then impact in important ways on internalising and externalising behaviour in their children
- A father’s own anti-social behaviour has independent effect on a child’s behaviour problems over and above the mother’s anti-social behaviour
- A father’s absence (combined lack of time and quality) is linked to aggression, anti-social behaviour, low self-esteem in children
- High conflict relationships between mother and father correlate with anti-social behaviour in children, particularly boys
- Getting on badly with even ONE parent doubles risk of anti-social behaviour
- Low paternal interest in his child’s education has an enormous impact on school failure (and therefore, indirectly, on anti-social behaviour) particularly for boys
- Early anti-social behaviour is a powerful predictor of early fatherhood (and the cycle continues)
The traditional split between adult and children’s services together with a lack of interest on the part of adult services in identifying adult males as fathers; and on the part of women’s and children’s services in engaging fathers in parent training or addressing fathers’ problematic behaviour have resulted in little engagement with men as fathers in either of these arenas, although in children’s services this is beginning to change.
Outside of the criminal justice system (and within it only sporadically), men’s fatherhood is almost never invoked as a motivator for personal change, although a growing body of case study evidence suggests this as a fruitful approach in a range of arenas from domestic violence to mental health and substance misuse.
Services ‘for fathers’ , for example, for young fathers, have, in the main, operated separately from other youth services, including those that attempt directly to address young males’ anti-social behaviour. As in adult services, it is rare for youth services systematically to identify whether their young clients are fathers or expectant fathers; and, even where this is known, to engage with this as a strategy in addressing anti-social behaviour. For example, the place of fatherhood in gang cultures or among gang members in the UK does not seem to have been considered.
This is a shame, since the research tells us that engaging fathers in behavioural and other parenting interventions can make a difference to children’s behaviour and wellbeing, whether that engagement is separate from engagement with the mother, in concert with her, or without her participation at all. Further, the few studies that have compared the impact of working with the couple v. mother only, confirm what any reasonable person would tend to assume: that the benefits of working with both are greater.
Case Study 1: Boys2MEN / CORAM FAMILY
boys2MEN provides mentoring and group support for boys, young men and fathers, mostly from local black ethnic communities. Behavioural problems, family violence and anti-social behaviour are routine. Some are care-leavers. Fathers and father-figures have usually been lacking or negative. And many of the young males are already fathers themselves. Male mentors play an important role, working with the key family members including, where possible, both biological parents, even when these do not live together. Young and older fathers share experiences during fathers’ group sessions and explore ways of improving the quality of the contact they have with their children. A multidisciplinary team devises strategies to deliver a range of necessary services; and the project is closely integrated with early years’ provision which offers universal and targeted services – for example, for Muslim fathers. Among fathers (both younger and older), evaluation shows more fathers accessing services, improved cognitive and social development in their children, more fathers reading to, and interested in, their children’s education – and less stress reported by mothers.
26 Kilburn Place
020 7604 5960
Case Study 2: DADS AGAINST DRUGS
Dads Against Drugs football team community programme was launched in 2001 after local research identified the need for good quality education about drugs for the children – and also found that schools’ resources were severely stretched. Children were going to their parents for advice on drugs, but many of those parents knew little about them. And fathers in particular were not clear where they would get the ‘authority’ to intervene. DADs decided on a family approach with the fathers encouraged to develop a healthy lifestyle, including practising sport on a regular basis, as a positive role model for their children. Today, the DADs the football team plays throughout the region. There’s football outreach and football theatre, crime and drugs awareness events, Basic Skills provision, an independent employability programme (DADSbiz.com), a drugs hotline, and a vibrant website highlighting local events and programmes, including the HMP Hull Prisons programme. Most importantly, through courses in drug awareness and child protection, DADs continues to create opportunities for its members to learn about, and to learn how to talk about, drugs with their children.
Case Study 3: LEICESTERSHIRE YOUTH OFFENDING SERVICE
Leicestershire Youth Offending Service works with 30 – 40% of the parents of the young people known to the YOS, both on a voluntary basis and via Parenting Orders. In 2006/07 the Service worked with the parents of 287 such young people, far exceeding the Youth Justice Board’s targets and the YOT national average. This work is carried out via parenting groups such as ‘Living with Teenagers’, where 27% of parents attending are fathers. The parenting programmes are also delivered to parents on a one-to-one basis. Staff have undertaken training to work specifically with fathers, and now routinely include discussion of the importance of the father’s role, and fathers’ influence on children’s development and well being. Fathers are made to feel valued, are signposted to other resources, and are also helped to adopt new parenting strategies, such as setting boundaries, improving children’s routines, and so on. The service also involves their children, asking them what they would like to change about their father’s parenting. Family meetings are an important part of the work; and feedback from fathers is routinely collected and used to inform future plans.
Leicestershire Youth Offending Service
Suites 2, 3 & 4 Bridge Park Plaza
Bridge Park Road
Thurmaston Leicester LE4 8BL
Tel 0116 2606000
Case Study 4: EDUCATION LEEDS – HEALTH INITIATIVES TEAM
John May is a specialist learning mentor working with school age fathers, and older teenage dads whose children’s mothers are still at school. Referrals come mainly from teen mothers’ services and directly from schools. Support generally starts with a meeting with the school. Some dads require in-depth support, including liaison with their own and the young mother’s families and a range of agencies. Many choose to attend a weekly after-school group.
The problems the dads face can be severe. Many are not fully engaged with education at the time of referral and John works with the schools to help get them back on track. Contrary to the stereotype most stick with the baby and try their best to get on with the mother. A range of services are offered to them by the team, including parent support and training. Outcomes overall are difficult to assess, but case study evidence is sometimes impressive. One 16-year-old dad took primary care of his child five days a week while the mother pursued her final GCSE year, continuing his own education at a different school with an onsite baby room – and all during a period when his parents, with whom he was living, moved house several times. He is now starting work on the Entry 2 Employment programme.
Tel: 0113 395 1215 .
Case Study 5: CHILDREN’S SOCIETY ‘LEAP’ PROJECT: ABIWIYYAT KI AHMIYYAT (IMPORTANCE OF FATHERHOOD)
This Bradford initiative supports a high concentration of Asian dads. Services range from nine-week parenting programmes and one-off workshops delivered in English, Urdu and Punjabi, to drop-in ‘dads and kids’ sessions, weekend activities and weekend residentials. Parenting programmes cover cultural/spiritual issues; enhancing relationships; positive discipline; rites of passage; and community involvement. One-off workshops, suggested by dads, have looked at communication with disabled children; coping with challenging behaviour; and being a positive role model. Weekend activity sessions have included football, hockey, cricket, baking, arts and crafts and woodwork. A frequent theme is the challenges inherent in raising children caught between two cultures.
The group runs Easter and summer play schemes at local schools, is piloting a literacy project with year 8 and 9 children and their fathers, and takes part in a national alliance of patient organisations supporting families affected by genetic disorders. One-to-one support to South Asian dads with disabled children is provided. Several staff from local Sure Starts have since shadowed the project team, and are now engaged in making mainstream services more father-inclusive. Future plans include more work with the extended schools programme; and a project to help tackle the high level of exclusions among South Asian boys at secondary school level.
Case Study 6: THE PINNACLE PROJECT – NCH (LONDON)
The Pinnacle project is a culturally sensitive early intervention service which adopts a strengths-based approach to working with African, Caribbean and mixed-parentage boys and young men aged 8-15 and their families. In particular, the project encourages meaningful relationships between boys / young men and their fathers or other significant males with the aim of increasing their emotional well-being and self-esteem and reducing anti-social behaviour. By promoting protective factors (such as good communication between fathers, mothers and children) and minimising risk factors (such as boys’ seeing the use of negative behaviour as a way of gaining respect) fathers, like mothers, can better support their sons to cope with the challenges they face while growing up. Services offered include mediation; solution-focused brief therapy; group work (including Start and Strengthening families Strengthening Communities); and community outreach.
Contact: Nina Smith [Nina.Smith@nch.org.uk]
Case Study 7: CARING DADS: UK PILOTS LONDON /CARDIFF / PROBATION SERVICE
Caring Dads: Helping fathers value their children is a group intervention programme that can be used with men who use violence or other controlling behaviours within their families – and for whom traditional parenting courses are usually not suitable. The 17-week one-night-per-week course focuses on helping the fathers recognize attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that support healthy and unhealthy father-child relationships, develop skills for interacting with children in healthy ways, and appreciate the impact on children of controlling, intimidating, abusive and neglectful actions including witnessing domestic violence.
About 8 to 12 men are registered in each group; children and partners do not attend. Groups are co-led by male and female facilitators with knowledge and experience of challenging issues around various aspects of fathering and violent and abusive behaviour.
Caring Dads is the result of a collaborative effort of representatives from two US universities, child protection services, batterer intervention programs, children’s mental health agencies, women’s advocates, centres for children and families involved in the justice system, family resource agencies and probation and parole services.
YOUNG OFFENDERS/GANG MEMBERS ARE OFTEN FATHERS – AND ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE FATHERS THAN THEIR NON-OFFENDING PEERS
- Entry into young fatherhood is predicted by antisocial behaviour and its correlates, which include academic failure, substance use and early initiation of sexual behaviours (Pears et al, 2005; Bunting, 2005).
- In a prospective longitudinal study of 335 African American males, childhood aggression (particularly when stable across 3rd to 5th grades) significantly predicted adolescent fatherhood, with adolescent substance use and deviant peer involvement adding incrementally to the prediction. This suggests that precursors for young fatherhood can be identified as early as age 8 Miller-Johnson et al (2004).
- There is a strong correlation between being a young offender and being a young father: among 15-17 year old offenders in the UK 12% already have children of their own (Prisons Inspectorate estimate); and among those aged 22 and under, nearly half are (or are about to become) fathers (Young Voice, 2005).
FATHERS’ BEHAVIOUR, INCLUDING ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR, AFFECTS MOTHERS AND MATERNAL CAPACITY
- There is an emerging consensus from the obstetric literature that ante-natal maternal stress is associated with low birth weight and preterm birth (for review, see O’Keane & Scott, 2005) and with children at higher risk of behavioural problems, anxiety, and cognitive and emotional difficulties. A key determinant of ante-natal maternal stress is relationship with partner (Van den Bergh et al, 2005).
- Among expectant teenage mothers, lack of perceived support by the father of their baby is a key correlate of high scores on the Child Abuse Potential Inventory (Zelenko et al, 2001).
- A decreasing pattern of involvement by the young father is significantly associated with young mothers’ increased parenting stress (Kalil et al, 2005).
- Teenage mothers with positive partner support are less rejecting and punitive towards their children (Unger & Wandersman, 1988).
- Heavy drinking by fathers is associated with double the risk of insecure attachments between mothers and infants (Eiden & Leonard, 1996).
FATHERS’ OWN BEHAVIOUR AND CHARACTERISTICS CAN PUT THEIR CHILDREN AT RISK OF ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
- Fluctuations in an adolescent’s satisfaction with their relationship with their father are significantly correlated with fluctuations in their psychological wellbeing (Videon, 2005).
- Fathers’ smoking is a risk factor in their children’s smoking (Menning, 2006).
- Changes in father-child involvement over time predict changes in the probability of teenagers’ regular smoking, suggesting a direct relationship between these two factors (Menning, 2006).
- Conflict with father, father’s negativity and father’s harsh or neglectful parenting are strongly associated with internalising and externalising behaviour in children (for reviews, see Phares 1999; Flouri 2005).
- Fathers’ harsh parenting has a stronger effect than mothers’ on children’s aggression, particularly sons’ (Chang et al, 2003).
- Getting on badly with even one parent more than doubles the likelihood of a young person engaging in antisocial behaviour (Wood, 2005).
- In disadvantaged, heterogeneous communities, the prevalence of cross-neighbourhood conflict heightens the salience of neighbourhood as a form of identity for young males. Peer relationships become particularly attractive, with strong bonds and cross-age relationships serving as conduits for the transmission of cultural models. Very rewarding family relationships are needed to withstand this competition for adolescent boys’ time and loyalty (Harding, 2005).
- Antisocial personality disorder in fathers is associated with problems of conduct and aggression in children and adolescents (for review, see Flouri, 2005, p. 103; Jaffee et al, 2003).
- For girls, having an antisocial father is associated not only with early conduct problems and later antisocial behaviour – but also with partnering with a convicted male (Smith & Farrington, 2004).
- A ‘dose effect’ is found: more serious anti-social behaviour by fathers tends to result in worse outcomes for children, as does more extensive contact with a father who is exhibiting serious anti-social behaviour (Jaffee et al, 2003).
- Fathers’ antisocial behaviour has an independent effect on children’s behaviour problems, over and above mothers’ antisocial behaviour and any genetic risk he may have imparted (Jaffee et al, 2003).
- Adolescent boys whose parents have a highly conflicted relationship tend towards antisocial behaviour and general psychopathology both at the time and in young adulthood; and also report ongoing problematic relationships with their fathers (Neighbors et al, 1997).
- When children rarely or never see their fathers, they tend to demonise or idealise them (Kraemer, 2005; Gorrell Barnes et al, 1998); blame themselves for their absence (Pryor & Rodgers, 2001); suffer substantial distress, anger and self-doubt (Fortin et al, 2006; Laumann-Billings & Emery, 1998).
- Academic failure is a substantial correlate of antisocial behaviour – and low paternal interest in children’s education has a stronger negative impact on children’s failure to achieve qualifications than does contact with the police, poverty, family type, social class, housing tenure and child’s personality (Blanden, 2006).
- A recent involvement measure which reflects non-resident fathers’ investments of quantity of time (i.e. how often he listens, talks) as well as the affective quality of that time (i.e. how close the adolescent feels to the father) identified a strong bi-variate association between lower levels of non-resident biological father involvement and adolescents’ externalizing and internalizing behaviors – specifically aggression; antisocial behaviour; emotional over control; and depression, anxiety and low self-esteem (Carlson, 2006).
- Paternal criminality is a major risk factor for children’s antisocial behaviour (Jaffee et al, 2003; Farrington & Coid, 2003)
- Few young offenders have had models of good fathering (Young Voice, 2005).
- Paternal incarceration is correlated with antisocial behaviour in their children (Jaffee et al, 2003) as well as with poor academic performance, emotional suffering, alcohol and drug abuse and own (i.e. child’s) involvement in the criminal justice system (for review, see Arditti et al, 2005).
- Four or more close, positive, family relationships are strongly connected with reduced recidivism, although family characteristics are important: where other family members have a history of criminality or many of the family relationships are highly conflicted, maintenance of family ties is connected with increased recidivism (Bahr et al, 2005).
DIRECTLY AND INDIRECTLY, FATHERS CAN HELP PROMOTE RESILIENCE IN THEIR CHILDREN AGAINST ENGAGING IN ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
- Children with highly involved fathers tend to have: better friendships with better-adjusted children; fewer behaviour problems; lower criminality and substance abuse; higher educational achievement; greater capacity for empathy; non-traditional attitudes to earning and childcare; more satisfying adult sexual partnerships; higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction (for reviews see Flouri 2005; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004).
- Eight year olds whose fathers ‘coach’ them emotionally by helping them with their sadness and anger are less aggressive (boys) and less negative with friends (girls) (Gottman et al, 1997).
- For girls, early pro-social socialization experiences with their fathers are found to protect directly against antisocial behaviour in early adolescence (Kosterman et al, 2004).
- For sons, the impact is indirect: paternal bonding was found to promote prosocial beliefs – and it was these that inhibited sons’ antisocial behaviour (Kosterman et al, 2004).
- In boys, attachment to father at 7.5 years is independently predictive of resilience to engaging in antisocial behaviours in childhood and adolescence (Bowen et al, 2007).
- Fathers’ risk-avoidance behavior has a positive impact on sons’ educational attainment (Yeung, 2004).
- A secure attachment with the father is an important protective factor against disturbance in children whose mother suffers from a mental illness including Post Natal Depression (Hall, 2004)
- Children at risk of psychosocial failure to thrive, maternal drug abuse, and poverty, talk and learn better when their fathers or father-figures are satisfied with parenting, provide financial support and engage in nurturant play (Black et al, 1995).
- High father involvement in childhood and in adolescence is correlated with lower adolescent risk behaviour (Bronte-Tinkew et al, 2006) and criminality (Flouri, 2005)
- High father involvement and increasing father-teen closeness are associated with reduced psychological distress in adolescents of both sexes (Harris et al, 1998).
- Adolescents who are more involved with their fathers are less likely to begin smoking regularly (Menning, 2006).
- When alcoholic fathers enter a treatment programme, the simple fact of their receiving treatment is associated with improvements in their children’s adjustment; and a clinically significant reduction in child problems is found with fathers’ alcoholism recovery (Andreas et al, 2006).
FATHERHOOD CAN BE A MOTIVATOR FOR PERSONAL CHANGE IN MEN
- Young Offenders who are fathers perceive their fatherhood to be an important motivator for change (Farrant, 2006).
- Fatherhood can stimulate highly disadvantaged young males to ‘pull their lives together’ – though not necessarily immediately: in some cases, a further spell of imprisonment intervened before the positive effects of fatherhood ‘kicked in’ (Florsheim & Ngu, 2003).
- Expectant and new fathers typically re-evaluate their own health and risk taking behaviour (Lupton & Barclay, 1997).
ENGAGING FATHERS IN PARENTING INTERVENTIONS CAN BE FRUITFUL; AND ENGAGING BOTH PARENTS MORE FRUITFUL THAN ENGAGING JUST ONE
- Intellectual gains in six month old infants are greater when BOTH mothers and fathers are trained in infant-communication (Metzl, 1980)
- Parent education can be delivered equally effectively to mother or father (i.e. fathers can be as effective change agents within families as mothers) Firestone, Kelly & Fike, 1980; Adesso & Lipson, 1981)
- Delivering a parent education programme to both parents is “significantly more effective” than delivering it to just one (Bakernans-Kranenburg et al, 2003)
- Each individual parent’s sensitivity towards their child (and their child’s attachment to them) is enhanced when both parents are included in the intervention (Bakernans-Kranenburg et al, 2003).
- Participation by low income fathers in educational/parenting interventions is associated with improved behaviour and parenting style; increased knowledge and understanding of child development; * increased confidence in their parenting skills; more sensitive and positive parenting; greater involvement in infant and child care; greater interaction with children (for review see O’Brien, 2004).
- In 24 highly vulnerable families, only one father was unable to reflect
usefully on his identity as a man, a father and a partner
(Ferguson & Hogan, 2004).
- Case study evidence suggests that engaging with problematic men’s
fatherhood (e.g. helping fathers towards a realization of the negative
impact their behaviour is having on their children; or initially limiting
contact with a child while providing support for the father to tackle
seriously negative behaviour) can stimulate positive change
(Sheehan, 2006; Hall, 2004; McLean et al, 2004).
FOR A MORE SUBSTANTIAL RESEARCH SUMMARY GO TO:
‘The Costs & Benefits of Active Fatherhood’
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