This is a great program and deserves to be copied throughout the country
One of its good aspects is that, in the light of the appeal for "Male-friendly" health services by the National Male Health Policy it recommends not just more action from the fathers but a concerted effort by the health services to open their minds to the benefits of dad-friendly services and to take action accordingly.
The aim of the Dads in Play Project (2012) was to improve fathers' engagement in Early Years Services in the culturally diverse Brimbank community of Victoria by researching and identifying culturally appropriate strategies and communication tools that engage fathers from a wide range of backgrounds.
A questionnaire and information kit was developed and provided to Early Years service providers in Brimbank to determine the current level of father involvement, identify challenges and opportunities to engage fathers. Consultations were held with families, Early Years Services, organisations and stakeholders. Responses from the questionnaires and individual and group meetings were then summarised.
Services responses to the involvement of dads in their services as well as services own suggestions of successful targeting and engagement of dads:
- dads attending playgroup with their kids
- attending appointments with their kids
- having dads and kids nights
- providing parent information nights
- providing sausage sizzles and/or working bees
Services were asked what they believe the key barriers to engaging fathers in services were, and the key responses were:
- Time constraints
- Work commitments
Although services have been quite successful in engaging fathers, it has been sporadic and mainly program based. Services and strategies that fit into fathers' schedules, and are integrated with existing child and family services would assist in engaging fathers on an ongoing basis.
Services were asked about one simple thing they could do to increase fathers' participation in services, with the following responses:
- involve fathers in policies
- creating father-focused events
- highlight fathers' positive involvement with their children
- increase fathers involvement in resource kits and service models
The following key suggestions that services expressed need for assistance with that would increase fathers' participation in their services were:
- setting up displays for dads so they can borrow resources.
- sourcing inviting information for dads.
- after hours sessions to be made available and childcare may also assist.
- more resourcing, awareness and campaigning of benefits of dads coming along to playgroup.
In order for services to successfully target and engage men, they need to be:
- provided after hours
- tailored to men's needs and engagement style,
- provided flexibly in the community where dads meet; and on an ongoing basis.
Challenges faced by services to improve father-inclusive practice:
- Time constraints; Many Child and Family Services identified having little time for reflection, practice innovation and development.
- Practice Culture; A service that developed a practice culture suggesting that including dads was 'too hard' or not core business experienced low participation rates, conversely where services had tried some simple activities and were welcoming dads, the staff were pleasantly surprised how easy and productive the practice was.
In spite of these challenges faced by services a number of them had already implemented flexible and responsive practice methods that were successful in engaging dads; such as out of hours opening, posters and resources that invited dads in. Using resource kits such as the Inviting Dads In kits, and hosting evenings where dads and kids participated, gave services confidence that it was not too difficult, and simply getting more dads through the door opened the conversation that could then grow and evolve.
Key recommendations resulting from this project
Fathers need to be encouraged to engage with their children from an early stage and to stay engaged throughout their lives. When we involve fathers and mothers we have more possibility of engaging culturally diverse and vulnerable communities and having a positive impact on children’s lives. It is recommended that;
- organisations focus more on fathers in both general and specific services
- early years services are provided with regular training regarding early intervention with fathers, resources are provided to do this; and
- organisations develop policies and strategies to support this fundamental work
- Dads In Play Recommendations, Future Directions & Resources -1.23 MB
Successfully engaging fathers in health services.