The four empirical papers included in this symposium use two race/ ethnically diverse national data sets that are uniquely well suited to addressing questions about the role of father involvement. Three studies use the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCWS). The first study focuses on perpetration of interpersonal family violence as a risk factor for child maltreatment. The second study assesses whether young age of parents is associated with paternal parenting behavior. A third study examines how fathers' aggressive and non-aggressive parenting behaviors relate to the behavior problems of three year old children. The fourth study uses the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW) to examine factors associated with nonresident fathers' inclusion in child welfare services and children's behavior problems.
We focus on fathers for several reasons. First, research indicates that although men spend less time caring for children, male caregivers are disproportionately indicated as the perpetrators of severe child abuse. Yet, the influence of fathers and father surrogates has received little attention from researchers and practitioners. The proposed studies examine an array of risk and protective factors, including paternal parenting stress, mental health, and child support payment, that may be linked to risk for maltreatment. Importantly, all studies control for sociodemographic factors such as income, employment, and education.
Second, past research has tended to conceptualize father involvement based rather narrowly on fathers' presence or absence from the home, and have not assessed more nuanced aspects of paternal caregiving and disciplinary behaviors. Several of the proposed studies are unique in that they carefully assess the level and extent of involvement based on factors that include residential status, biological ties to the child, and paternal caregiving and disciplinary behaviors that may be related to risk for child maltreatment.
Third, there is a need to understand paternal risk for child maltreatment in the context of his relationship with the child's mother. We examine qualities of fathers and father figures that may increase or decrease risk for maternal child maltreatment. For example, fathers who perpetrate domestic violence against the child's mother present a number of risks to children.
In summary, this symposium seeks to address some important gaps in the current literature. A goal is to better understand how the service delivery system can prevent child abuse and neglect, by recognizing the role that fathers play and designing services that are inclusive of individuals in the family subsystem that influence child wellbeing.