Married Households Safest for Children
Special Report - March 17, 2008
The safest place for children is an intact married-parent household where their father and mother are present, according to a new research brief from the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values. The report, “Protectors or Perpetrators: Fathers, Mothers, and Child Abuse and Neglect,” was co-authored by University of Virginia sociology professor, W. Bradford Wilcox, and research associate Jeffrey Dew. The authors analyzed the most recent research data on child maltreatment (defined as child neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse or psychological abuse) in the United States, noting that 899,000 children were victims of maltreatment in 2005.
Although fathers are involved in just over one-third of child maltreatment cases in the U.S., the report notes that, “married fathers living with their children protect them from abuse and neglect.” According to the authors, father-initiated child abuse is influenced by a number of key factors. For example, fathers are more likely to maltreat their children if the father: is poor or unemployed; abuses substances such as alcohol or drugs; suffers from psychological problems or distress; was abused as a child; and/or is not engaged in the lives of his children.
According to the report, one way fathers help protect their children from abuse is through their economic provisions for their family, which makes it less likely the children will live in poverty and more likely they will have health care and live in safe neighborhoods. The research brief highlights the fact that children raised in single parent homes are more likely to be abused than those raised in two-parent homes. “Children in cohabiting and step-family situations are more vulnerable to abuse,” the authors write. “Children in father-present homes are on average safer because they are more likely to benefit financially from their fathers’ providership, their mothers are more likely to enjoy the social and emotional support of a co-parent, and their biological or adoptive fathers are less likely than stepfathers or other unrelated males to physically or sexually abuse them. In short, children are safest when they live in a married home with a biological or adoptive father who is committed to their welfare and to the welfare of their mother.”
The authors conclude by offering several recommendations to help protect more children from maltreatment. For example, they recommend that policy makers, journalists and scholars “investigate and support programs that successfully help couples with children… get and stay happily married.” They also urge lawmakers to “resist initiatives… that would seek to grant custody rights to adults who are unrelated to children simply because they have lived for some time with the child and parent.” They also suggest a public health campaign aimed at educating the public on the importance of “active and affectionate fathers” to child well-being.
“Marriage is and always has been the safest place to have and raise children,” said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “As this report shows, the best way to reduce child abuse and neglect in the United States is to encourage and support healthy, happy marriages.”
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.