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AIFS: Factsheet On Engaging Fathers In Child and Family Health

This Practice Sheet summarises and builds upon the findings from the Engaging Fathers study (Berlyn, Wise, & Soriano, 2008). It provides ideas for practitioners and policy-makers about how to increase engagement of fathers in child and family services and programs.

Child and Family Clearinghouse (AIFS) Factsheet

Child and Family Clearinghouse (AIFS) Factsheet

 

 
Child and family services are often seen as places devoted primarily to supporting women...
 

This Practice Sheet summarises and builds upon the findings from the Engaging Fathers study (Berlyn, Wise, & Soriano, 2008). It provides ideas for practitioners and policy-makers about how to increase engagement of fathers in child and family services and programs. 

Why is it important to engage fathers in child and family services?

Research demonstrates that fathers are much less likely to engage with child and family services than mothers. The reasons for this lower rate of engagement are multiple; however, an obvious underlying influence is the traditional ideal of mothers as the primary carers of children and fathers as breadwinners (Berlyn et al., 2008).

Attitudes to fathering and fathering practices have undergone significant changes in recent years. Involved fathering - where men participate more directly and equitably in child rearing, rather than at arm's-length or through their financial contributions - has emerged as a new social ideal (Lamb, 2004).

Recent research has also demonstrated the positive contribution that fathers can make to children's development and family cohesion. Children with highly involved fathers experience positive outcomes in socio-emotional, behavioural and cognitive/educational domains (Lamb & Tamis-leMonda, 2004). The children of fathers who read to their children from an early age have better literacy skills and improved school readiness when compared to other children (Gadsden & Ray, 2003).

By harnessing the enthusiasm for the new social ideal of involved fathering, child and family services can play a significant role in supporting fathers to be positively involved with their children and families. Research suggests that this will then lead to better outcomes for children and families (Berlyn et al., 2008).

Why is it challenging to engage fathers in child and family services?

Child and family services can find it challenging to engage fathers because fathers may: 

  • not attend services
  • not actively participate in programs
  • not have ongoing participation in a program; and/or
  • appear reluctant to develop a bond with a service or a practitioner.

Similarly, fathers may find it difficult to engage with child and family services because:

  • they don't know where to look for help
  • their working hours can be an obstacle to accessing services
  • child and family services are often seen as places devoted primarily to supporting women and their children and, as a result, men can be reluctant to seek help through these avenues
  • men are less likely to seek out health workers, child welfare professionals and parent groups if they need support in their role as carer; and
  • entrenched beliefs and perceptions relating to the roles of men and women, such as men not being "natural nurturers", can enhance men's sense that child and family services are not meant for them.

Resources Available

  • Engaging Fathers In Child And Family Health Services

    This Practice Sheet summarises and builds upon the findings from the Engaging Fathers study (Berlyn, Wise, & Soriano, 2008). It provides ideas for practitioners and policy-makers about how to increase engagement of fathers in child and family services and programs (PDF, 1,1MB).

     
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