Research done over the past two decades has clearly established that, when fathers are positively involved with their families, children benefit cognitively, socially, emotionally and developmentally. Unfortunately, the generally positive impact of father-child contact cannot always be assumed. There are over 100,000 substantiated child maltreatment investigations in Canada each year, with over half involving fathers as perpetrators (Trocme et al., 2010). Police reports further confirm that fathers are perpetrators in the vast majority of cases of domestic violence. Of even greater concern, men clearly predominate as perpetrators of severe, injury-causing physical abuse of children and women and commit the majority of family-related homicides (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2006).
Despite the importance of fathers in families, our child protection and child and family mental health service systems tend to work primarily with mothers; a trend that is exacerbated when fathers are deemed to be high risk. Ironically, this means that those fathers who most need to be monitored and helped by our intervention systems are not involved. Men’s children pay the price with higher rates of aggression, substance use, criminal involvement, suicide attempts, mental health problems and chronic health conditions.
When we put this information together, we see numerous advantages to changing practice to better include fathers in efforts to enhance the safety and well-being of their children including the potential to improve father-child relationships, offer an additional route to ending violence against women, model accountability, address fathers’ potential use of abuse in other relationships and with other children and opportunity to monitor and contain risk from fathers during follow-up from the child protection and justice systems.