Children Of Single Fathers Often Miss Out On Health Care

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Children Of Single Fathers

Children living in the custody of single fathers are less likely to have access to affordable health care and visit the doctor less often compared to children living in families with a single mother or both parents.

A study in the journal Health Services Research finds that many children in single-father families are slipping through the cracks when it comes to access to health care.

Although single fathers are less likely to be poor and generally earn more money than single mothers, their children are more likely to visit the doctor only when sick. Of the more than 62,000 children in the study, about 80 percent of children in single-father families visited the doctor in the past year, compared with 86 percent in single-mother families and 87 percent in two-parent families.

Nearly half of the children of single fathers did not visit the doctor for a check-up during the year, while more than two-thirds of children in single-mother households visited the doctor when well, according to the meta-analysis of several published studies.

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"It might be that men are more risk-taking," said Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, study co-author. Ziol-Guest, the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the Harvard Center for Society and Health, said that the difference also might be the result of men thrust into solo parenting with little information about public programs available to them. "Men are more likely to get their children as a result of a divorce," than they were in the past, she said.

Regardless, single-father families are no longer just a footnote in health policy studies. In fact, the number of single-father families in the United States quintupled between 1970 and 2003 to approximately 6 percent of all families, and single-father families are one of the types of families that are growing fastest.

Until recently, most research on single-parent families focused on single mothers and the effects of an absent father on children.

"The public safety net seems to be working for single-mom families," said Mikaela Dufur, an assistant professor of sociology at Brigham Young University.

Single fathers, however, have not gotten much attention from scholars, health policy advocates and social service agencies that coordinate public health insurance. "They may be cut off from that information," said Dufur, who was not part of the study.

Besides reduced access to health care, children in single-father families have a higher risk of drug use, have more problems in school and take part in risky behavior more frequently than children in families with a single mother or both parents do, according to the study.

There is much work to do with this quickly growing type of family unit, Ziol-Guest said. "We need to think where we might intervene."

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