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Father involvement and early child development in a low-resource setting


Evidence on the role of father involvement in children's development from low-resource settings is very limited and historically has only relied on maternal reports of father's direct engagement activities such as reading to the child. However, fathers can also potentially influence their children's development via greater positive involvement with the mother, such as by offering interpersonal support or sharing decision-making duties. Such positive intrahousehold interactions can benefit maternal mental health and wellbeing, and ultimately children's development. We use data collected from mothers, fathers and children in the context of the cluster randomized controlled trial evaluation of Msingi Bora, a responsive parenting intervention implemented across 60 villages in rural western Kenya, to explore the various pathways through which fathers may influence their children's outcomes. In an endline survey in Fall 2019 among a sample of 681 two-parent households with children aged 16-34 months, fathers reported on measures of their behaviors towards children and with mothers, mothers reported on their wellbeing and behaviors, and interviewers assessed child cognitive and language development with the Bayley Scales. In adjusted multivariate regression analyses we found that greater father interpersonal support to mothers and greater participation in shared household decision-making were positively associated with children's development. These associations were partially mediated through maternal wellbeing and behaviors. We found no association between fathers' direct engagement in stimulation activities with children and children's outcomes. Inviting fathers to the program had no impact on their involvement or on any maternal or child outcomes, and fathers attended sessions at low rates. Overall, our results show the potential promises and challenges of involving fathers in a parenting intervention in a rural low-resource setting. Our findings do highlight the importance of considering intrahousehold pathways of influence in the design of parenting interventions involving fathers.

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