Report explores father-child relationships from child’s perspective

Date: 3rd April 2017
Category: Family Environment and Alternative Care

A new report explores the quality of father-child relationships as perceived by children aged 10 years old, the factors predicting less positive father-child relationships, and how father-child relationships relate to other aspects of children's wellbeing.

This Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) study of father-child relationships aims to promote greater understanding of the role of fathers, and factors that strengthen father-child relationships. This should contribute to more effective representation for fathers in family policies and services, a declared aim of the Scottish Government's national parenting strategy (Scottish Government, 2012).

The study was commissioned by the Scottish Government in collaboration with Fathers Network Scotland as part of the Year of the Dad 2016. The study considers several important issues for policy makers and practitioners involved with family influences on children's socio-emotional wellbeing. It examines the distribution of poor, good or excellent father-child relationships; what predicts poor father-child relationships; and how positive father-child relationships are linked with other aspects of children's socio-emotional wellbeing. Mother-child relationships are also considered, in order to view the totality of parental support for the child, and see where the child's relationship with one or both parents may need strengthening. The study draws on information from over 2,500 couple families in the first GUS birth cohort, a nationally representative sample.

Overall conclusions and recommendations

These results highlight the importance of father-child relationships in heterosexual couple families. They indicate that fathers' supportiveness is closely associated with several other aspects of ten year-old children's socio-emotional wellbeing that extend outside family life to include enjoyment of school, and relations with teachers and peers. The extent to which these associations have a causal basis, and the direction of any causation, are uncertain. Further longitudinal research is required to establish whether father-child relationships influence child wellbeing over time. Nonetheless, these findings suggest that strengthening the quality of fathering in specific couple families may improve children's socio-emotional wellbeing. Families with risk factors for poor father-child relationships, including socioeconomic disadvantage, family adversity, and the presence of a non-biological father figure, could potentially benefit from additional support. The research has also identified potentially modifiable aspects of family life that could be the focus of policies and intervention work. The quality of father-child relationships seems to depend on the quality of family interactions more generally, suggesting that fathering is embedded in the whole family system. This points to the potential value of measures that boost family cohesion, support couple relationships and strengthen co-parenting. In families with a non-biological resident father figure, the finding that a relatively high proportion of children perceive poor levels of supportiveness suggests that men who find themselves in the position of being a father figure may have particular difficulties in defining their role, both within the family and in relation to the child's non-resident biological father. Researchers and policy makers who focus on biological fathers have often overlooked father figures. Further study of non-biological father figures' needs is required in order to further our understanding of how best to support them.