Father Absence in Early Childhood and the Development of Adolescent Risk Behaviors in a Ukrainian Cohort
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INTRODUCTION: Adolescent and adult health and behavior are greatly influenced by our experiences during childhood. Specifically, positive relationships with fathers are important to a child’s social and psychological development. Two-parent families are often characterized by economic stability and shared caregiving responsibilities, resulting in a lower stress environment. Stressors in early childhood have been linked with substance abuse, increased morbidity, and maladaptive behavior later in life. METHODS: The Family Children of Ukraine (FCOU) birth cohort study was used to evaluate the relationship between a child’s separation from father from birth to age seven on the development of negative socio-behavioral outcomes in adolescence. Data were analyzed using multivariable regression and multiple mediation analyses. RESULTS: Nearly 20% of FCOU respondents to the adolescent questionnaire were separated from their fathers in early childhood (18 months to three years of age). Children who were separated from their fathers in early childhood, had greater odds of early smoking and current smoking in adolescence (odds ratio: 1.79 [95%CI: 1.25, 2.55], and 2.11 [95% CI: 1.43, 3.10], respectively) compared to those who were not separated from their fathers. Children who were separated from their father in early childhood had 2.87 (95% CI: 1.51, 5.43) times greater odds of reporting that they were arrested, compared to children with present fathers in early childhood. These associations persisted in both multivariable and mediation analyses. CONCLUSION: Children who experience separation from their fathers in early childhood are more likely to develop negative health and social behaviors in adolescence. Understanding the pathways through which this occurs is crucial to informing future interventions.