The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children

US Department of Health and Human Services; Administration for Children and Families; Administration on Children, Youth and Families; Children's Bureau Office on Child Abuse and Neglect

Child and Family Well-Being

Children deserve nurturing families and environments in which their physical, emotional, educational, and social needs are met.


Child protection practices must take into account each child’s needs and should promote the healthy development of family relationships.


Man walking through field with boy

Nationally, 60.9 percent of child victims experienced neglect (including medical neglect), 18.9 percent were physically abused, 9.9 percent were sexually abused, and 4.9 percent were emotionally or psychologically maltreated.


Approximately two-fifths (40.8 percent) of child victims were maltreated by their mothers acting alone; another 18.8 percent were maltreated by their fathers acting alone; and 16.9 percent were abused by both parents.


The presence of fathers in the home is tied to lower rates of maltreatment.


The way fathers play with their children also has an important impact on a child’s emotional and social development. Fathers spend a much higher percentage of their one-on-one interaction with infants and pre-schoolers in stimulating, playful activity than mothers do. From these interactions, children learn how to regulate their feelings and behaviour. Rough-housing with dad, for example, can teach children how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of their emotions.


Generally speaking, fathers also tend to promote independence and an orientation to the outside world.


Fathers often push achievement while mothers stress nurturing, both of which are important to healthy development. As a result, children who grow up with involved fathers are more comfortable exploring the world around them, and more likely to exhibit self- control and pro-social behaviour.


One study of school-aged children found that children with good relationships with their fathers were less likely to experience depression, to exhibit disruptive behaviour, or to lie, and were more likely to exhibit pro-social behaviour. This same study found that boys with involved fathers had fewer school behaviour problems and that girls had stronger self-esteem.


In addition, numerous studies have found that children who live with their fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, to achieve academically, and to avoid drugs, violence, and delinquent behaviour.


In short, fathers have a powerful and positive impact upon the development and health of children. A caseworker who understands the important contributions fathers make to their children’s development and how to effectively involve fathers in the case planning process will find additional and valuable allies in the mission to create a permanent and safe environment for children.