Virginia Fatherhood Campaign Changes Attitudes

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va -- A statewide media campaign to increase Virginians' awareness of fatherhood issues and importance of fathers' roles in childraising did just that, a survey released today shows.

The survey evaluated the success of one component of the Virginia Fatherhood Campaign, a statewide media effort launched in 1996 by the Virginia Department of Health. The campaign, an outgrowth of a proposal by Governor George Allen, seeks to educate the public about the importance of involved fathers and empower communities to support and encourage responsible fathering.

"As more people recognize the importance of the quality of fathering and act to improve the relationship between fathers and their children, the better our children can cope with the challenges of growing up," said State Health Commissioner Randolph L. Gordon, M.D., M.P.H. "It's a fact that children who grow up knowing and interacting with their dads also grow up healthier."

After a four-month media campaign conducted by the health department in summer 1996, Virginians showed a significant increase in recognizing that children growing up without fathers poses an important social problem. The data are from statewide telephone interviews conducted before and after the campaign by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia.

Responses also showed that the public had gained an increased knowledge of fatherhood, such as the fact that 40 percent of children grow up without a father. Some respondents reported that their attitudes about the importance of the father's parenting role had been positively changed.

"Changes in people's responses before and after the campaign provide powerful evidence that the media campaign was effective," said Tom Guterbock, Center for Survey Research director.

Five hundred adults, about half of whom were fathers, were interviewed in April 1996, prior to the campaign's launch in May. In late summer 1996, after the campaign's first major publicity phase, 391 adults -- as many as possible of the original respondents -- plus 200 new respondents were interviewed.

Those polled were asked to rate general social problems, including the "involvement of fathers in raising their children," on a scale of one to 10. Respondents were also asked to agree or disagree with numerous items addressing the roles of fathers and mothers in raising children, and they were asked open-ended questions about perceived consequences of boys growing up without fathers.

A comparison of before and after campaign responses shows:

  • Importance ratings for "children growing up without a father" increased significantly. Most of the change occurred among male respondents, with fathers increasing their importance ratings more than non-fathers. 
  • Fathers in the survey showed a significant positive increase in agreeing with such statements as, "It is essential for a child's well-being that fathers spend time interacting and playing with the children." 
  • The percent of respondents who could estimate the percent of children growing up without a father increased substantially -- from two-thirds to three-quarters of the sample. 
  • Knowledge of some facts, such as the percentage of criminals who grow up in fatherless homes, did not improve.

"The public wholeheartedly supports the goals of the Virginia Fatherhood Campaign, and that's borne out by the survey," Guterbock said. The Virginia Fatherhood Campaign encourages all men to commit to being good fathers, to spend time with their children, and to become more responsible for the health and welfare of their children.

"We hope the results will be improved family health, well-being and stability plus an added benefit of strengthening communities throughout Virginia," said Ron J. Clark, Virginia Fatherhood Campaign director.

In addition to the media campaign, eight forums were held across the state to help communities come up with ways to help and support fathers. The forums encouraged citizens to come up with solutions tailored to meet their area's needs. Communities were furnished with information and technical support to help them implement fatherhood programs and projects. The forums enlisted community leaders from every sector of society -- business, civic, religious, and political -- to commit to improving family life in their localities by addressing the problems of absent fathers. The Virginia Department of Health has made seed grants available to jump start local programs focusing on dads. In the first year, 55 programs representing private, public and religious groups applied for $150,000 in seed grants. Of those, 23 programs that could demonstrate continuing self-sufficiency were awarded grants ranging from $2,500 to $7,500. This year, the number of applications more than doubled and 29 community groups were awarded a total of approximately $150,000 in seed grants.

The Virginia Fatherhood Campaign Resource Center, which provides technical assistance and informational materials, can be contacted at 1-800-790-DADS.

Please visit the Virginia Fatherhood Campaign website.