Oct. 8, 2018-Researchers who advocate for blanket restriction on father contact with infants and toddlers use invalid methodologies and distort their own data. Here are just some examples from Dr. Warshak’s 2017 paper:
Advance Fair Warning: Today’s post is another one that is going to go on a bit longer than most. I have excerpted here some of Dr. Warshak’s persuasive critiques of the methodologies used by those who would impose blanket restrictions on infant and toddler overnight parenting time.
Researchers who advocate for blanket restriction on father contact with infants and toddlers use invalid methodologies and distort their own data. Here are just some examples from Dr. Warshak’s 2017 paper:
One obvious and wide gap between the findings from these two studies and expert witness testimony is the difference between the populations studied and typical custody litigants. The Australian study’s sample of children under four years old is not representative of parents who are going through a divorce because most of the parents in the study were never married to each other (90% for the sample of infants and 71% for toddlers), and 41% had never even lived together. Nothing is known about the behavior and relationships between the parents and children prior to the couples’ separations. Even if the study reached verifiable conclusions, the differences between Australian children of unmarried fathers who may or may not have had any pre-separation relationship with their children and American children whose married parents are divorcing and who are accustomed to their fathers’ care are too wide a gap to bridge. The Warshak Consensus Report affirmed that optimal parenting plans are different for children who have a pre-existing relationship with both parents and those who do not.
In-depth analyses of the McIntosh et al. and the Tornello et al. studies, published in the Warshak Consensus Report and in other papers, reveal multiple problems in each study’s measures, procedures, data analyses, and data reporting-problems that expose wide gaps between each study’s methodology and its conclusions. In the McIntosh et al. study, two examples of analytic gaps that undermine the trustworthiness of the study’s conclusions are found in one sentence from the synopsis: “Infants under two years of age living with a nonresident parent for only one or more nights a week were more irritable and were more watchful and wary of separation from their primary caregiver than those primarily in the care of one parent.” The first author subsequently described these negative outcomes as “a cluster of stress regulation problems.” Only in the Appendix of the 169-page report can readers discover that the irritability score for babies with no overnights actually is slightly worse than the score for babies who spent one or more nights per week with their other parent. Also, the mean irritability score for the frequent overnighters and the infants in intact families was identical, and the mean irritability score for all groups was within the normal range. Since, for these researchers, the irritability scores generated such concern about “stress regulation” for overnighting infants, they should have expressed equal concern about infants being raised in intact, two parent Australian homes.
The second analytic gap is the discrepancy between the trustworthiness of a measure and the conclusion based on the results from that measure. The synopsis concluded that the overnighting infants were more “watchful and wary of separation from the primary caregiver.” The implication is that overnighting had somehow damaged the security of the babies’ relationships with their mothers. This conclusion, repeatedly cited to discourage overnights for children younger than two years of age, came from three questions that the researchers extracted from a standardized scale designed to measure young children’s readiness to learn language. The three questions are unreliable in the sense that they have not been established as a valid or reliable measure of children’s stress, anxiety, or attachments to their mother.
Richard A. Warshak (2017), Stemming the Tide of Misinformation: International Consensus on Shared Parenting and Overnighting, Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, vol. 30