Study finds an involved father helps craft a healthier child

WILLMAR -- A "first-of-its-kind" report about the health and well-being of fathers and families in Minnesota could be the first step in creating policies and programs that could help men become better fathers.

WILLMAR -- A "first-of-its-kind" report about the health and well-being of fathers and families in Minnesota could be the first step in creating policies and programs that could help men become better fathers.

The ultimate result would be healthier children.

The report, which was prepared through a collaborative effort between the Minnesota Fathers and Families Network and St. Cloud State University's Child and Family Studies Department, is being formally released today.

Because there has not been "a lot of research and data out there on fatherhood," the report is a valuable collection of facts and figures about Minnesota families, said Nancy Norbie, a supervisor with the Kandiyohi County Family Services Department.

Norbie is on the board of directors for the Minnesota Fathers & Families Network and was involved with the project.


The data include information from Kandiyohi County families that Norbie helped collect.

The report -- "Do we count fathers in Minnesota?" -- is chock full of interesting data, charts and graphs about the education level, economic indicators, marital status, physical and mental health of Minnesota fathers. Surveys also gauge how involved fathers are with their children.

But the report only goes so far.

Recommendations included in the report call for conducting more research on Minnesota fathers, including those who are very involved with their children and those who aren't.

A summary of the report says that Minnesota has a "healthy and involved group of men who are engaged with their children." But Norbie said it was difficult to survey the less-involved men, ones the report calls "fathers in the shadows," which has left a gap in the data and subsequently a gap in programs.

Knowing more about those shadow fathers, for example teen fathers, and their families, those who are incarcerated or those who don't live full-time with their children could help agencies fine-tune funding and programs to help fathers and their children, Norbie said.

Norbie is quick to point out that the report isn't meant to take away the importance of mothers or the programs that assist them. But she said even though people recognize the importance of fathers, there is little in society that reflects that value.

She said institutions and organizations need to examine whether they are "really father-friendly" or if they are unintentionally geared more for mothers.


While fathers are the focus of the report, Norbie said the bottom-line mission of the project is to create a "better life for our children."

The report provides overwhelming support that children benefit most when they have both a mother and father involved with their lives.

A 2005 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Minnesota third in the nation when it comes to the well-being of children. "We are a leader in having father and mother involvement with their children," Norbie said.

But for parents who struggle with their own education, health and economic status, the challenges are great and the children can suffer. "We need to support men and women in these fragile families," Norbie said.

The report recommends more intervention and prevention services for fathers, with a special focus on those who are young, unmarried or low-income.

"It is assumed that fathers will instinctively know or muddle through the transition to fatherhood with little or no support," the report said. Instead, provisions need to be made to help men "connect with their children and to stay connected to their children in healthy and meaningful ways."

Norbie said communities need to "embrace the idea of healthy fatherhood."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has included funding in his 2008-09 budget that's marked for "supporting the fathers and families of Minnesota's young children."


On Thursday fathers and children from the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District will be gathering at the elementary school in Atwater for an event that promotes the importance of fathers reading with their children. That event is also part of the Minnesota Fathers & Families Network.

Copies of the "Do we count fathers in Minnesota?" report are available for viewing at the Family Services Department in the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building.

Information is also available online at .

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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