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Joint Center Report Urges Research and Policy Changes to Boost the Involvement of Expectant Fathers

WASHINGTON — Single parenthood is never an ideal situation. In African-American communities, it is an epidemic that puts children on a disparate path even before they are born. Studies show that 70 percent of African-American children are born to unmarried mothers and 40 percent of all children, regardless of race, live in homes without fathers. As a nation, the United States ranks 28th among developed countries in infant mortality rates, which is 50 percent higher than the 2010 rate predicted in 2000 of 4.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

 The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes (CPIPO) released a report this week on fathers’ influence on child health and development. CPIPO aims to improve paternal involvement by “reframing debates and informing research, policy and practice” to encourage and support increased involvement by expectant fathers. Its goals also include identifying barriers that prevent men from being more involved and finding options to overcome them and developing a national media strategy to promote a more active male role. The center, whose research largely focuses on African-Americans and other peoples of color, held a report briefing on Capitol Hill on Thursday. 

 â€śWhile health practitioners and public health agencies have made strides in addressing many of the risk factors that affect pregnancy, we think the issue of improving paternal involvement holds a great deal of promise for reducing infant mortality rates in the Black community, said Dr. Jermane Bond, a Joint Center research associate who oversaw the commission’s work.

 Surprisingly, few studies have been done on the impact of paternal involvement in pregnancy outcomes. Two years ago, CPIPO member Dr. Amina Alio, a medical anthropologist at the University of South Florida, did a computer search on the topic and found that as of mid-2009, only seven research articles had been published versus the “thousands upon thousands” of articles about maternal issues.

 â€śWhile we need to address the lack of research, we do know enough to say that men are vitally important to healthy pregnancies and healthy births,” said Ralph Everett, the Joint Center’s president and CEO. “The commission has done a great job of putting together recommendations for policy changes to improve paternal involvement in pregnancy outcomes while pointing the direction toward improving our knowledge of doing so can lead to healthier families.”

 According to the Joint Center report, this huge omission in paternal involvement research can be attributed to such reasons as the additional effort and expense required to collect data on fathers; a lack of understanding of cultural variations; the status of the expectant parents’ relationship; or the fact that in some families the primary male role model may not be the biological father.

 Research has found that the prenatal period provides a “golden opportunity” for fathers to be more physically and emotionally involved before and after the birth of a child, and that their involvement helps to ensure that the expectant mother seeks proper care and avoids risky behaviors such as smoking or drug use. As a result of their early involvement, fathers are far more likely to be involved in their children’s ongoing growth and development.

 Recommendations to address barriers to paternal involvement include amending the Family Medical Leave Act to include paid paternal leave; eliminating the distinction between single- and two-parent families when determining eligibility for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit’s marriage penalty by allowing deductions for a second earner. The commission also recommends expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and TANF to include noncustodial fathers who pay child support.

 Preparing young men to be parents should begin at a young age, said commission member Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative in Washington, D.C., who noted that girls’ preparation for motherhood begins when they receive their first dolls. It’s different for boys, especially those who grow up without fathers of their own, to replicate what they don’t grow up seeing, he noted.

 The commission advocates mandates by Congress and state legislatures that would require insurance plans to cover preconception health for men; programs developed by medical societies and other agencies to promote awareness among health care providers of the importance of discussing a “reproductive life plan” with male patients during routine medical visits; and the development and dissemination of best practices for paternal involvement in pregnancy by the Health Resource and Services Administration and other funding agencies.

 â€śFamily planning is one of the most effective ways of people determining what their family can be like. If they regulate or determine the size of their family based on their ability to care for and provide for the baby’s needs, they will in a collective sense improve his or her quality of life,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.). “Children who come into the world unplanned, and often unwanted, are behind other children from the very beginning.”

 Davis added that single parenthood has been particularly devastating to African-American communities, leaving the affected children economically and emotionally deprived.

 To view the report, click here.

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