Father and child

How can charities better support fathers?

By Anne Kazimirski 21 June 2016 3 minute read

Father’s Day was special this year. It was, in Scotland at least, Father’s Day in the Year of the Dad. This is an initiative co-ordinated by Fathers Network Scotland which focuses on supporting fathers in parenting and promoting their role in child development.

There is plenty of evidence on the impact fathers’ involvement has on children’s early learning, as well as on the quality of their relationship with their child (which in turn has an impact on the child’s well-being).

The UK is lagging behind other countries in sharing childcare

A Head Start intervention in the United States with fathers of three- to five-year-olds found that children’s readiness for school improved once fathers’ play behaviour improved. And greater involvement of dads also makes life easier for mothers, whether working or not. Mothers are too often held solely responsible for their children, from their health to their development. New mums who share parenting with their partners are less likely to be depressed, and it also helps mothers who want to return to work. Maternal working can make quite a difference to achieving gender equality in the home, as well as in the public sphere.

Fatherhood involvement is increasing, but progress is slowboth legislation and cultural norms in the UK are behind many other countries such as Sweden. According to research published this week by the UK-based Fatherhood Institute, mums and dads here are the worst in the developed world at sharing childcare.

So how can charities help with this?

There are many initiatives focusing on dads, but how much is father involvement mainstreamed? Many services need a better gender lens, and need to include women more, but some need to be better at including dads, or men as fathers.

Sometimes very simple changes can make a difference. When an invitation for a post-birth home visit was addressed ‘Dear parents’, for instance, 20% of fathers attended. When the wording was changed to ‘Dear mum and dad’ and the hope that both would attend was made clear, 80% of the fathers came.

Charities can learn from this: it isn’t clear that the voluntary sector thinks enough about how dads might get involved, and the changes they need to make to ensure this happens.

There are some straightforward questions charities can ask themselves. If your service is for families, how inclusive are you of dads? Is your service as accessible to working dads and mums as it is to non-working parents? Do you follow up dads who don’t attend meetings as much as you follow up mums? Are you holding dads responsible for parenting as much as mums? And do you look at your impact on dads? In Australia, the Triple P behavioural parent training program (which is used by a number of charities in the UK) was found to have a large positive effect, but it had a much greater effect on mums’ parenting practices than those of dads.

The UK’s Fatherhood Institute, as well as the MenCare global campaign, are two charities leading the way on practical tips on how to involve fathers—we should listen to them. Let’s not forget, dads are parents too.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Children and Young People Now blog.