Evidence supporting TFP In Schools

The Fathering Project recognises the importance of school partnerships with families and research shows that by specifically targeting fathers, schools will see significance additional benefits for the children and for the school as a whole

The importance of the evidence

There is an emerging literature which describes the important role of fathers as a powerful influence on their children’s outcomes. Based on this evidence, The Fathering Project seeks to help fathers realise their important role in their child’s life and provide advice on how to encourage their child’s development. To ensure a strong research base for their actions the Fathering Project has conducted and commissioned a number of reports to collate and analyse the best evidence relating to the influence of fathers on their child’s development. This work will continue in order to strengthen the Australian evidence-base of the Fathering Project’s messaging.

Through examination of Australia’s largest longitudinal child and parent data set1, complemented by other Australian data, this toolkit provides you with a snapshot of the influence of fathers on the lives of their children.  The evidence contained within this toolkit can be used to help encourage greater father involvement in parenting their children as well help you to promote a strong message to fathers and your school community that fathers have an important role in partnering for better outcomes for our children and young people.

Important

Australian fathers play a critical role in the health and development of their children. Effective fathers display warmth toward their child, believe in their ability to parent well, are able to reason with their child, are involved in their child’s life and parent well with their partner.  Ineffective parents are over-protective, hostile toward their child, angry and have argumentative relationships with their partners.  Each of these characteristics has a unique influence on a child’s health, social, emotional and academic outcomes.

Summary of the main findings

  1. Fathers matter1
  2. Fathers self-efficacy and warmth in parenting are the most powerful predictors of children’s improved health, academic, social and emotional outcomes
  3. Fathers have a significant impact on the academic as well as the social and emotional wellbeing of children having lasting influences into their adult life2,3
  4. Fathers’ involvement has been shown to have a stronger influence on the children getting high grades than does mothers’ involvement.4 5.
  5. Children do better in school when their fathers are involved in their school, regardless of whether their fathers live with them or live apart.1
  6. Children whose fathers participate in school activities, meetings and events also enjoy school more, are less likely to have behaviour issues and are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities.6
  7. Once engaged, the proportion of fathers who are highly involved in school does not decline over time as much over time as much as with mothers
  8. Mothers are more likely to remain involved as well if the father is involved so you get true family involvement 2
  9. Children whose fathers participate in school activities, meetings and events also enjoy school more, are less likely to have behaviour issues and are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities6
  10. Children who have a father or father figure live with them throughout their life have better learning outcomes, general health, emotional wellbeing and fewer problem behaviours.
  11. While mothers have a significant influence on their child’s health, academic, social and emotional outcomes, after accounting for this, fathers have a unique and diverse role in improving outcomes for their child.
  12. A father’s influence on their child’s outcomes becomes most prominent when children reach school age

Why family partnerships are important for schools

There is no doubt that, when schools engage and partner with families, they will see significant benefits for their students and therefore important outcomes for school improvement2. This evidence is supported by the Australian Government through national, as well as state and territory policies requiring schools to plan and report on their progress in engaging families.

The Fathering Project recognises the importance of school partnerships with families and research shows that by specifically targeting fathers, schools will see significance additional benefits for the children and for the school as a whole.

Research now highlights the importance of fathers’ partnerships with their children’s schools and engagement in their learning. 2 However, we are still seeing that family engagement is largely seen as domain of mothers particularly in two parent families.  The Fathering Project provides support and resources at all levels of the whole-school community to support the development of positive school/family partnerships with a special emphasis on engaging fathers.

Australian Policies and Frameworks and School/Family Partnerships

Australian Government Department of Education Family School Partnerships Framework recognises that family involvement in children’s education is critically important in fostering children’s school success. The recently released Australian Student Wellbeing Framework is also underpinned by significant links to family partnerships and engagement.

Even though evidence continues to grow around the critical impact of school and parent partnerships for our children schools are still faced with a constant struggle to engage parents and sustain positive partnerships. Even among those schools who are successfully engaging parent the large majority of those parents involved are mothers. 7

With the compelling research around the impact for children of father involvement in schools, it is crucial for schools to consider their actions around targeting fathers. 

Breaking down the evidence for practice

We know that family and schools working partnership can have an enormous impact on the success, happiness and health of children and  that there are added benefits when there is an engaged and effective Father or Father figure in a child’s life. When we break out the evidence into critical areas for the school you can clearly see the benefits for working to strengthen these partnerships even further.

How family partnerships support schools’ student outcomes

Vital evidence for Schools

Involvement of both mothers and fathers is significant in contributing to school success for children of all ages. 7,8

Robust research also links parent engagement to the improvement of other outcomes including:
  • Early literacy acquisition
  • School readiness
  • School adjustment
  • Cognitive development
  • Motivation
  • Attendance
  • Belief in the importance of education
  • Engagement in schoolwork
  • Social and relationship skills
  • Self-regulation behaviour
  • Sense of personal competence
  • Wellbeing
  • Enrolment in higher level classes
  • Academic achievement
  • Retention
  • Graduation
  • Participation in post-secondary education 2,7

 

When schools intentionally and collaboratively plan and implement parent engagement strategies they benefit from and contribute to family knowledge, experiences, capacities and networks. Collectively, this enriches learning, improves wellbeing and strengthens communities 7.

The added benefits of engaging the fathers

Vital evidence for Schools

  • Fathers’ involvement has a stronger influence on the children getting high grades as well as on the child’s attitude to learning 4 5
  • Children whose fathers participate in school activities, meetings and events also enjoy school more, are less likely to have behaviour issues. 8,9
  • Fathers play a distinct (as in different to mothers) and integral role in children’s socialisation. 4 5
  • Children do better in school when their fathers are involved in their school, regardless of whether their fathers live with them or live apart. 10
  • Fathers have a significant impact on the social, cognitive, emotional and physical well-being of children from infancy to adolescence and with lasting influences into their adult life. 6 ,10

We also know that when schools have an emphasis on specifically engaging fathers, they will see significant benefits for their students and for the school community as a whole. If we can help dads become more aware, more effective and more focussed fathers, it’s not just their lives that will improve, but also their families, schools and communities benefit too. A fathers’ influence on children’s cognitive development, social skills, mental health, literacy and maths achievement is found to be separate to that of mothers’, to operate in different pathways to that of mothers or to compensate for deficiencies in mothers’ parenting 8. 10, 11

This evidence does not show fathers’ influence as superior to that of mothers, but as a separate, important factor in children’s successful transition though infancy to adulthood.

Significant increase in protective factors and reduction in risk factors

Fathers have a significant impact on the social, cognitive, emotional and physical well-being of children from infancy to adolescence and with lasting influences into their adult life. 6 10

An effective and engaged Father or Father figure helps to:
  • Increased student connectedness with school
  • Increased social and emotional development
  • Increased physical activity and better health outcomes
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Increased resilience
  • Reduced bullying behaviours
  • Reduced engagement in unhealthy and risky behaviours
  • Reduce alcohol, tobacco and drug use
  • Increase social responsibility, social maturity, resilience and life skills
  • Reduced suicide & self-harm
  • Reduced substance abuse
  • Reduced delinquent behaviour 1

Fathers fill a different role in their children’s lives and in their education. Fathers tend to be more tactile and physical, and they appear to foster the development of analytical skills, particularly in their sons. In addition, children appear to rely more on their fathers for factual information and often believe that fathers and mothers have different family goals. Fathers, children say, think it’s important that they learn and do well in school. Mothers want them to “feel special and important.13

How father engagement helps build school community and connectedness 

Vital evidence for Schools

  • School connectedness and parent engagement are critical factors in children and adolescent achievement and wellbeing 14,15
  • By targeting fathers, schools may be able to make greater gains in parental involvement than by targeting mothers or parents9.
  • When directly targeted, single fathers are just as likely as single mothers to be involved in their children’s schools5.
  • The proportion of fathers who are highly involved in school does not decline steadily over time as it does with mothers6.
  • The low participation rates of fathers in two-parent families, offer schools an opportunity to increase overall parental involvement9.

More engaged dads and father-figures can lead to:

  • More parents engaging in the school community.
  • More diversity in parent engagement.
  • More support and understanding of school staff and procedures.
  • More consistency between home and school messages and values 9.

Importantly the proportion of children with mothers who are highly involved in their schools declines steadily as the grade level of the children increases whether the children live in two-parent or in single-mother families. However, the proportion of children who have highly involved fathers does not decline steadily. Fathers in two-parent families, moreover, exhibit a tendency as their children grow older to become or remain involved in two activities: attending class or school events, and volunteering at their children’s schools. Schools could encourage this tendency by offering fathers more opportunities for participation in these two activities.

In recent decades, shifts in our society are transforming the roles of fathers and mothers in two-parent families and these altering roles have seen many more fathers on engaging more in childrearing and household tasks. There is also increasing numbers of single parent families and fathers are increasingly taking on the role of single parent. In single-parent families, the lone parent must fill that role regardless of whether the parent is the father or the mother.  

Yet the general trend would appear to be that schools still are more likely to solely target mothers or ‘parents’ in general rather than fathers. Plus, in two parent households, where the school targets ‘parents’, the mother generally is still seen as the ‘gatekeeper’ to the information and responsible for child-related duties, including reading newsletter and communicating with their children’s school. All if the evidence supports the notion that by targeting fathers, schools may be able to make greater gains in parental involvement than by continuing to solely target mothers or parents in general. 

References 

  1. The Fathering Project, Review of the Australian Evidence of the Impact of Fathering (2015) Link

  2. Martin, K, Wood, L (2013). The Fathering Project; Projected Social and Economic Benefits. The University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia.

  3. Wood, L., & Lambin, E. (2013). How fathers and father figures can shape child health and wellbeing. Retrieved from http://thefatheringproject.org/fpwp/wp- content/uploads/2015/11/New-Fathering-Research.

  4. Ewell Fostera, C, Horwitza, A (2017). Connectedness to family, school, peers, and community in socially vulnerable adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review. 81. 10.1016/j.childyouth.2017.08.011

  5. McBride, B.A., Schoppe-Sullivan S.J., & Ho, M.H. (2005). The mediating role of fathers’ school involvement on students’ achievement. Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 201-216.

  6. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Fathers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools, NCES 98-091, by Christine Winquist Nord, DeeAnn Brimhall, and Jerry West, Washington, DC: 1997. (NCES, 1997)

  7. Pleck, J.H. (2010). Paternal involvement: revised conceptualization and theoretical linkages with child outcomes. In M.E. Lamb (ed.), The Role of the Father in Child Development (5th ed.). Hoboken NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

  8. Panter-Brick, C., Burgess, A., Eggerman, M., McAllister, F., Pruett, K., & Leckman, J. F. (2014). Practitioner Review: Engaging fathers – recommendations for a game change in parenting interventions based on a systematic review of the global evidence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12280

  9. Nord, C. W. and West, J. (2001). Fathers’ and mothers’ involvement in their children’s schools by family type and resident status. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/2001032.pdf

  10. Burgess, A. (2007). The costs and benefits of active fatherhood: Evidence and insights to inform the development of policy and practice. Retrieved from http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/uploads/publications/247.pdf

  11. Fletcher, R., May, C., St George., Stoker, L., & Oshan, M. (2014) Engaging fathers: Evidence review. Canberra: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY). Retrieved from http://www.aracy.org.au/publications-resources/area?command=record&id=197&cid=6

  12. Pears, K. C., Kim, H. K., Capaldi, D., Kerr, D. C., & Fisher, P. A. (2012). Father-child transmission of school adjustment: a prospective intergenerational study. Developmental Psychology, 49 (4), 792-803.

  13. Cabrera, N. J., Fagan, J., Wight, V. & Schadler, C. (2011). Influence of Mother, Father, and Child Risk on Parenting and Children’s Cognitive and Social Behaviors. Child Development, 82 (6), 1985–2005.

  14. Ewell Fostera, C, Horwitza, A (2017). Connectedness to family, school, peers, and community in socially vulnerable adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review. 81. 10.1016/j.childyouth.2017.08.011

  15. Lester, L., Waters, S., & Cross, D.(2013). The relationship between school connectedness and mental health during the transition to secondary school: a path analysis. Journal of Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools23(2), 157-171. https://doi.org/10.1017/jgc.2013.20

The Fathering Project Review of the Australian Evidence of the Impact of Fathering (2015) contains a review of available Australian data which describe the impact of fathers on their children’s development.  The report is broken in to two discrete sections.  Part one is an exploration of the fathering variables included in Australia’s first longitudinal study of children and their families, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).  This dataset contains measures of key fathering characteristics measured over regular time intervals within a cohort of 10,000 families and includes measures of parental warmth, hostility, anger and consistency as well as parental inductive reasoning, efficacy, involvement and over-protectiveness and the relationship between fathers and mothers.  Each of these factors are explored in this longitudinal sample, are also modelled on the Fathering Projects key child outcomes of Learning; Health, Development and Problem Behaviours; and Mental Health and Social Skills.

Part two of this report is a summary of the data available in Australia which provides an Australian evidence-base for international evidence statements about the impact of fathering.  This section of the report is defined by statements taken from major international reports on fathering and presents the Australian evidence to support or further expand these international claims.