A service provider who wants to better meet the needs of children will need to:
acknowledge and champion father engagement
include father-aware statements in policy documents, and promote these
provide training for staff and motivation to be inclusive of fathers
monitor and review what actions are being taken and what progress is made
Write Fathers into Policy
The philosophy of the organisation, its public image and reputation, and programme content are factors that will determine if that organisation will effectively connect with fathers. Policies that acknowledge and target fathers can define the direction that an organisation takes and can help shape activities.
To be effective, policies need to be accompanied by strategies and plans to see them carried out. If the intention is to embed engaging fathers into the practice, how the organisation is going with this should be a regular review item.
Recording the gender of clients is an important step. If the gender of the people attending is not recorded and used, it obscures who is being reached. If records are not kept, there will be few ways of knowing whether the efforts of the agency to reach fathers are effective. A decade ago, the highly regarded Triple P (Positive Parenting Programme) in Australia received highly favourable feedback by people completing the programme. However, one externally reviewed exit survey found that only 1% of those filling in the exit survey (of over 1600 parents) were returned by males.
Parenting support professionals invariably say they have fathers coming in, but often the numbers are so small that they remember that odd occasion, even if it was a year or more in the past. In most organisations it seems that the actual number of fathers engaging in services is unknown. Keeping track of these numbers can give some perspective and may help guide thinking around policy and direction.
Agency staff may have limited experience of working with men as clients. Workers may feel out of their depth in dealing with men if they haven’t had training around this. Without training, practitioners are likely to hold fast to their personal experience, attitudes and biases about men. Stereotypes of men being too ham-fisted to care for a baby, of young fathers who play video games when they are caring for the baby, of fathers abandoning their families or men who are alcoholic or violent or otherwise abusive may be filters through the view with which staff view an unfamiliar male client.
Without training, staff may feel unprepared to deal with male clients. It’s important to source training for staff to work with fathers so that they feel confident, safe and can effectively do their work.
Involve Men in Design
Even when an organisation decides they need a fathers’ programme, they may not involve men (or have men to involve) in the design. If men are not part of conception and design a programme, it should be no surprise if it misses the mark. Good will and best intentions are unlikely to translate into something that will resonate with men. Ideally, men would be part of the delivery, as well. That said, finding men to take on these roles will take some effort.
Strategies that Engage Fathers
client registration forms that record information and contact details of fathers
physical environment that has positive images of fathers
staff trained to work with men
seeking out fathers’ views and input
using a strengths-base approach for fathers
offer community activities/programmes that focus on skill acquisition and supporting their children and partners (rather than on "fixing" the man)
fathers being made aware of the role they can have with their children after separation
a hiring practice that tries to get males on staff