Objective: To assess the independent effect of father involvement on intellectual and behavioral outcome of 985 low birth weight preterm infants followed longitudinally from birth to age 3 years as part of the Infant Health and Development Program.
Method: The sample for this study is drawn from eight urban sites, composed largely of ethnically diverse and relatively disadvantaged families. On the basis of a combined score for father's stable presence in the home and amount of play with the infant, we defined extreme groups of high-involvement fathers (33%, n = 305) and low-involvement fathers (16%, n = 148), with the remainder as a middle group (51%).
Results: Most fathers played a meaningful role as play partner with their high-risk infants. Approximately 75% of fathers were reported to play with the baby every day at 12 (peak), 24, and 36 months. Fathers who were black, younger, had teenage mothers as companions, or were from low-income families were less involved with their infants. For black fathers, low family income was significantly associated with low father involvement. Within the black ethnic subgroup only, higher father involvement was associated with improved cognitive outcome. Mean IQ for the high-involvement subgroup was 6.00 points higher than for the low-involvement group even after adjusting for family income, neonatal health, treatment group status, and paternal age.
Conclusion: Father involvement enhances cognitive outcome in black families and may have implications for intervention.