Engaging fathers in child and family services: participation, perceptions and good practice

9 Dec 2008

The paper, 'Engaging fathers in child and family services: participation, perceptions and good practice' describes father participation in selected Stronger Families and Communities Strategy (SFCS) 2004–2009 programs and services. The SFCS is an initiative of FaHCSIA. As part of the themed study component of the national evaluation of the SFCS, the report explores fathers' engagement with child and family services.

In the context of the emergence of involved fathering as a social value, and in light of research indicating the positive outcomes for children associated with father involvement, family and child-centred services are called upon to include a greater focus on fathers in their activities. The study found:

  • fathers were involved in a diverse range of services, programs and activities across the SFCS, although their level of participation was far lower than that of mothers
  • there were a number of sociocultural, service and other factors that acted as barriers to fathers’ access to services and vice versa
  • by their very nature, services that were most successful at engaging with fathers were specifically tailored for men and were exclusive to fathers.

While service providers acknowledged ongoing challenges in engagement, they had put in place strategies to improve father participation. These included:

  • introducing flexible hours of operation
  • employing male facilitators
  • developing father-specific services
  • marketing services to men in male spaces
  • using male-friendly language and advertisements
  • creating service venues where men felt comfortable.

Fathers and professionals shared the view that positive father engagement is most likely in situations where the facilitator is male and a father himself, is liked and trusted, and creates dialogue by sharing personal experiences. Conversely, fathers were alienated by experts and a highly structured program format, and preferred informal, peer discussions and ‘hands-on’ program activities.

The professionals who participated in the research demonstrated a well-developed understanding of the benefits of father involvement, were keen to engage with fathers and were often enthusiastic and passionate about working with men and fathers. Finally, contact with services and programs was a positive and valued experience for those fathers who participated in the research, in terms of knowledge and skill development, relationships with children and partners, connecting with other fathers and the community more broadly, as well as for resolving personal issues.

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