Daddy's little girl: what's it like to grow up without a father in the family home?

September 05, 2005

Single-parent families headed up by lone mothers are the fastest growing family in Australia. Now researchers at the University of Western Sydney ask: Does growing up without a dad at home change a woman's life, particularly the way she forms relationships with men?

The 12-month study is being led by Associate Professors Debra Jackson and Louise O'Brien from the UWS School of Nursing, Family and Community Health, and also involves nursing honours researcher, Leah East.

Associate Professor O'Brien says high levels of divorce and separation means increasing numbers of Australian children and adolescents are without a dad or father figure living with them under the same roof.

"The literature suggests that father absence is potentially related to adverse life experiences for children," says Associate Professor O'Brien.

"For girls, it can be associated with early sexual experience, difficulty in developing intimate relationships with men, and more problematic adolescence.

"This is the first study of its kind in Australia to delve into the issue - there's a lot of anecdotal evidence and opinion out there, but very little data on the subject.

"We are talking to women who experienced father absence growing up to find out from them what it was like without a dad in the house; asking women how they view their childhood and adolescence, and what impact it may have had on their adult relationships.

"We want to test if women's actual experiences and perceptions mirror the research literature."

Associate Professor Debra Jackson says the relationship between a father and child is a unique bond.

"We expect to gain information that will assist parents to realise the importance of encouraging healthy loving relationships with both parents, despite relationship breakdown," she says.

"This study will form part of a larger research program exploring issues around father absence. We will eventually have enough information to generate strategies to help families to maintain close and loving contact with their children after divorce or separation.

"We also want to assist health and welfare workers to support children and young people who are experiencing father absence, and make recommendations for possible interventions that may ameliorate the effects of father absence on the lives of girls and women."
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Research Australia

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