Published: 16th June 2015
New research, conducted by the Nuffield Foundation, has highlighted that dads are more likely to have regular contact with a son than a daughter following a split from their partners.
The study was carried out by Professor Lucinda Platt from the London School of Economics and Political Science and Dr Tina Haux from the University of Kent to see why so many dads lose touch with their children within the first two years of a separation.
Both Professor Platt and Dr Haux analysed data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which holds information about 19,000 children born during the period of September 2000 to January 2002, and isolated those families that had split during that time, where the mother had remained as the primary care giver.
"With such high rates of separation in the UK there has been a lot of interest in the negative effects a split has on any children involved. Policymakers have been keen to encourage meaningful contact between non-resident parents – who are mostly fathers – and their children", said Dr Tina Haux.
From the 2,800 families highlighted, 20% of dads who split from their partners by the time their child was 3 years old had no contact with their children during that period. That was reduced to 10% of dads who separated when their child was over 3 years old.
It was also highlighted that as the children became older, their dads were less likely to keep in regular contact. 30% of children had no contact with their dad by the time they reached 11 years old, 20% saw their dad on occasion, but less than once a week. Only 25% saw their dads more than once during the week.
Fathers that were more actively involved in raising their child - from changing nappies and playing with their children to reading to them before they separated from their partner was linked to more overnight stays and regular contact with their children, although seeing their daughters less than their sons, with their sons also more likely to stay overnight more frequently.
Dr Haux added, "The more closely involved a dad is in the upbringing of his young child, the more likely he is to have regular contact in the event of a separation. The sorts of activities a dad is involved with in the early years matter. For policy, paternity leave policies may have payoffs in terms of contact, while support for a father to meet more regularly with his child and provide a bedroom for them could also be important."
The research also highlighted another key finding in that following separation, mothers often suffer with a steep decline in their confidence, often questioning their own parenting skills the ability to raise their children on their own.
The study found that the mothers decline in confidence would improve over time, however the amount of involvement from the father following separation didn't have any impact on how mothers judge themselves. It is believed that the trauma and shock of the separation was the main cause of the decline in the mother's mental state and a change in behaviour in the children.
Professor Platt concluded, " We can conclude that being a single mum is tough and those trying to support this group of women should recognise that a focus on mental health alone may not be enough to help them get back on their feet and provide a happy, healthy home for their child. Practical, as well as psychological, support around parenting is likely to be key." She added, " There was a clear link between separation and a knock to a mother’s confidence in her abilities as a parent."
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