Fathers Matter--A Lot

Fathers. They matter. A lot. When we think of children, especially young children, we most often think of their mothers. And rightly so—women play an incredibly important role in nurturing and raising children.  The relationship between a mother and child is critical to the development of children into healthy, thriving adults.

But we often don’t pay enough attention to fathers and the way that they shape and influence the life of a child.

It turns out that children with engaged fathers have an advantage—both socially and academically—over children with distant or no relationships with their dads.  Fathers who have a positive and engaged role in the family help children to develop a stronger sense of emotional security, self-confidence and better social connections with peers. “Rough-housing with dad” teaches important lessons about how to draw boundaries on aggressive behavior and physical contact without losing control of emotions.

In fact, researchers like Maureen Black, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, have found that children with involved fathers have better language skills and fewer behavioral problems.

And in some cases, father involvement can be life-saving.

Firelight grantee-partner, Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS—Mansa Chapter, (Mansa NZP+) set out to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child during pregnancy.

Mother-to-child transmission or vertical transmission of HIV/AIDS occurs when a woman who is HIV-positive passes on the virus to her baby. Without treatment, around 15 to 32 percent of babies born to HIV-positive women will become infected with HIV during pregnancy or delivery. The treatment provided to women during pregnancy has been shown to be highly effective in reducing the risk of the child being born HIV-positive.

When women receive Prevention-of-Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) treatment, the rate of transmission drops significantly, generally to between 2 to 15 percent.

So when Mansa NZP+ set out to reduce the number of babies born HIV-positive by increasing the number of women who receive PMTCT treatment, they learned very quickly that the secret to success was involving fathers. In fact, when they increased father involvement in prenatal care—so that the couple got tested together for HIV—more women got tested and accessed the treatment.

Through focused outreach and community mobilizing efforts, Mansa NZP+ increased father involvement from 10 to 60 percent. As a result, more women got tested and more women received the treatment. Because of this, fewer babies are born HIV-positive and die from HIV.

Mansa NZP+ is not stopping there. They will continue to work with families so that the babies grow up to be healthy and strong. And that includes nurturing relationships with both mom and dad.

One of the starting points will be to increase the percentage of men attending post-natal clinics.

We are watching with interest to see the innovative ways that Mansa NZP+ will accomplish this goal in the remote rural villages of Luapula province in Zambia.

So, yes—from any angle that you look at it, fathers matter. A lot.

Let’s not take them for granted.

Happy Father’s Day!