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Fathers' Illicit Drug Use and Children's Attachment: Does Paternal Engagement Bolster Mother-Child Attachment Relationships? Open Access

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In this study, the impact of paternal illicit drug use on mother-child attachment relationships was explored. The research also includes an exploration of the mediating effects of paternal engagement and paternally expressed love and affection on mother-child attachment relationships. The study employs previously collected data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFS), a large sample of unmarried, non-residential fathers who provided longitudinal data on economic, attitudinal and behavioral variables, and are a part of a group that traditionally suffers from underrepresentation in family research (Hofferth, et al., 2002). The data used were collected from the third wave of the FFS and included an existing instrument as a measure of attachment, the Toddler Attachment Sort-39 (TAS-39; Andreassen & Fletcher, 2007), as well as self-report survey items on paternal engagement, and substance use. Demographics on age, sex, and race/ethnicity were also collected. A total of 4,898 families participated in the FFS. By the third wave, 1,303 families completed the TAS-39 as well as all items related to paternal substance use and engagement. Multiple imputation was used to handle missing data. Analyses run with the imputed data, which yielded a weighted sample of 2,219 participants, supported the initial identification of three paternal engagement factors. Imputed data was then utilized to conduct the subsequent analyses on the relationships between paternal drug use, paternal engagement, and mother-child attachment relationships. Additionally, results indicated that paternal substance use was associated with a statistically significant increase in mother-child attachment insecurity, and that this relationship was partially mediated by the combined effects of the paternal engagement factors studied, and completely mediated by the individual factors representing the paternal expression of love and affection and paternal impressions of engagement. In contrast to predictions, increased levels of paternal drug use/problems were associated with more paternal engagement and love and affection.

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