Dr. Richard Warshak – overnight care; what works ?

Posted on February 20, 2014 by


“Experts Agree: Infants and Toddlers Need Overnight Care from Both Parents After their Separation”

Feb. 4th 2014 – the following is a summary only as we do not yet  have the full paper to publish the article.  Update: the full article is now available and can be viewed at:  https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/45/.


When parents are married, they generally share the care of their babies – diapering [i.e. nappy changing], feeding, bathing, putting to bed, soothing in the middle of the night, cuddling in the morning. But if parents separate or divorce, should children under four spend every night in one home ? Or will infants and toddlers benefit from spending overnight time in the care of each parent ?

To answer these questions, Dr. Richard Warshak, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, spent two years reviewing and analysing the relevant scientific literature.

His conclusions garnered the endorsement of 110 of the world’s top experts. Warshak states:

  • “Just as we encourage shared parenting in two-parent homes, the evidence shows that shared parenting should be the norm for children of all ages, including sharing the overnight care for very young children.”

To maximize children’s chances of having long lasting relationships and secure attachments to each parent, Warshak’s consensus report encourages both parents after their separation to maximize the time they spend with their children, including the sharing of overnight parenting time.

The consensus report is available Feb. 4th. in the on-line advance edition of Psychology, Public
Policy, and Law, available on-line here [http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/law/20/1/46/ ].

Warshak notes that shared parenting is not for all families. Regardless of their children’s ages parents should always consider a range of factors when creating the best parenting plan.  He notes:

  • “What works for one child in one family, may not be best for another child in different circumstances among other factors, the parents’ work schedules and their capabilities to provide good care must be taken into account.”

But Warshak, referencing accepted research of the past 45 years, objects to the idea that children under four, and some say under six, need to spend nearly all their time with only one parent and cannot handle being apart from that parent even if they receive loving and attentive care from the other parent.

Prohibitions or warnings against infants and toddlers spending overnight time in their father’s care are inconsistent with our current understanding of child development, says Warshak.

Babies and toddlers need parents who respond consistently, affectionately, and sensitively to their needs. They do not need, and most do not have, one parent’s full-time, round-the-clock presence. Many married mothers, such as flight attendants, doctors, and nurses, work night shifts that keep them away from their infants and toddlers at night. Like these married mothers, single mothers do not need to worry about leaving their children in the care of their fathers or grandparents during the day or overnight.

Warshak and his colleagues believe that society should encourage fathers to engage in the daytime and overnight care of their infants and toddlers after separation.
When asked why he wrote this report, and published it with his colleagues’ endorsements, Warshak said:

  • “Judges and lawmakers hear competing versions of which parenting plans are best for very young children. We want to clarify where science stands on these issues by presenting a consensus of opinion from prominent researchers and practitioners.”

For this consensus report, Warshak assembled an international group of top experts in early child
development, parent-child relationships, and divorce. They reviewed his analyses, offered comments to improve the report, and endorsed its conclusions and recommendations. The experts are united in their concern that flawed science is leading to parenting plans and custody decisions that harm children and their parents.

Warshak says; “This report should provide strong direction for policy guidelines and decision-making,”

The report, “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report,” will appear in print in the February 2014 issue of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

Source URL: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/law/20/1/46/
Media and interested bodies are asked to contact Dr. Richard Warshak at: media@warshak.com .


Two central issues addressed in this article are the extent to which young children’s time should be spent predominantly in the care of the same parent or divided more evenly between both parents, and whether children under the age of 4 should sleep in the same home every night or spend overnights in both parents’ homes.

A broad consensus of accomplished researchers and practitioners agree that, in normal circumstances, the evidence supports shared residential arrangements for children under 4 years of age whose parents live apart from each other. Because of the well-documented vulnerability of father-child relationships among never-married and divorced parents, the studies that identify overnights as a protective factor associated with increased father commitment to child rearing and reduced incidence of father drop-out, and the absence of studies that demonstrate any net risk of overnights, policymakers and decision makers should recognize that depriving young children of overnights with their fathers could compromise the quality of the developing father-child relationships.
Sufficient evidence does not exist to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers. The theoretical and practical considerations favoring overnights for most young children are more compelling than concerns that overnights might jeopardize children’s development.

Appendix [extract]


Endorsements from Researchers and Practitioners

The 110 researchers and practitioners who have read, commented, and offered revisions to this article are listed below. They endorse this article’s conclusions and recommendations, although they may not agree with every detail of the literature review.

* This list below is a sample of only 40 of the 110, and the diversity of countries, specialisms and background is remarkable – RW

1. Kari Adamsons, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Connecticut

2. Francesca Adler-Baeder, Ph.D., Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Auburn University

3. Karen E. Adolph, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Neural Science, New York University

4. Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Sociology, University of Southern California

5. Akira Aoki, M.A., Professor, Department of Clinical Psychology, Taisho University, Tokyo, Japan

6. Jack Arbuthnot, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Ohio University

7. William G. Austin, Ph.D., Independent Practice, Lakewood, Colorado and Raleigh, North Carolina

8. Jennifer L. Bellamy, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

9. Jay Belsky, Ph.D., Robert M. and Natalie Reid Dorn Professor, Department of Human Ecology, Human Development and Family Studies Program, University of California, Davis

10. Anna Beth Benningfield, Ph.D., former President of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy; Independent Practice, Dallas, Texas

11. Malin Bergtröm, Ph.D., Clinical Child Psychologist and Researcher, Centre for Health Equity Studies, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm University, Sweden

12. William Bernet, M.D., DLFAPA, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

13. Thoroddur Bjarnason, Ph. D., Professor of Sociology, University of Akureyi, Iceland

14. James H. Bray, Ph.D., former American Psychological Association President; Associate Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine

15. Glenn Ross Caddy, PhD., ABPP, Founder and Chairman, MindExperts International LLC; Independent Practice, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

16. Terence W. Campbell, Ph.D., ABPP, Independent Practice, Sterling Heights, Michigan

17. Asa Carlsund, Ph.D., Lecturer, Mid Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden

18. Judith Cashmore, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Sydney Law School, Australia

19. Marco Casonato, Psy.D., Professor of Psychodynamics, Senior Researcher, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy

20. K. Alison Clarke-Stewart, Ph.D., Research Professor and Professor Emerita, Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, University of California, Irvine

21. Hugh Clarkson, MCChB, FRANZCP, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Practice 92, Auckland, New Zealand

22. Marilyn Coleman, Ed.D., Curators’ Professor Emerita, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri

23. Scott Coltrane, Ph.D., Interim Senior Vice President and Provost, University of Oregon

24. Mary Connell, Ed.D., ABPP, Independent Practice in Clinical and Forensic Psychology, Fort Worth, Texas

25. Jeffrey T. Cookston, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, San Francisco State University

26. James W. Croake, Ph.D., ABPP, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, University of South Alabama College of Medicine; Independent Practice, Edmonds, WA

27. Mick Cunningham, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, Western Washington University

28. David H. Demo, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, School of Health and Human Sciences, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

29. Emily M. Douglas, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Bridgewater State University; Chair, National Research Conference on Child and Family Programs and Policy

30. James R. Dudley, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Social Work, College of Health and Human Services, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

31. Don Edgar, Ph.D., Foundation Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies

32. Mark A. Fine, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

33. Gordon Finley, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, Florida International University

34. Lluís Flaquer, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain

35. Emma Fransson, Ph.D., Psychologist, Karolinska Institutet/ Stockholm University; Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS), Stockholm, Sweden

36. Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr., Ph.D., Emeritus Zellerbach Family Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

37. Lawrence Ganong, Ph.D., Professor and Co-Chair, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri

38. Donald A. Gordon, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Ohio University

39. Michael C. Gottlieb, Ph.D., ABPP, Independent Practice, Dallas, Texas

40. Geoffrey L. Greif, Ph.D., Professor, School of Social Work, University of Maryland

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