Working as a team is what counts

25 October 2006

Researchers examining how family services involve fathers in early years settings have found that having the whole team ‘on board’ is key to success.

The Pre-school Learning Alliance studied attempts at father involvement at 29 early years services. Fifteen of these were sessional daycare settings, seven were parent and toddler groups and seven were full daycare settings. Each setting followed one of four models

• father-friendly communication;
• including fathers in activities;
• encouraging talk about gender issues; and
• just using the Fathers Matter leaflet (an Alliance guide for practitioners).

The project aimed to evaluate each model and identify what seemed to be most effective in enabling settings to engage with fathers. As far as possible, participation was sought from a mix of settings in rural, urban and inner-city areas, and in both predominantly white areas and in areas with black and minority ethnic communities. The socio-economic status of the area where the setting was situated was also noted. All this was to ascertain whether any of these factors might impact on the success, or otherwise, of settings in engaging with fathers.

Each setting completed three questionnaires and three audit forms, at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the six months project – to establish a baseline of the setting’s current involvement with fathers, find out whether and how the level of father involvement was changing, and assess to what degree the setting considered the project to be valuable. Staff members’ and mothers’ and fathers’ views were also taken into account.

Analysis of the data found that it was the setting ethos that impacted most on how successful the setting appeared to be in engaging with fathers, not the model followed. Amongst other things, the study found that:

• Team working is crucial. The vast majority of settings that considered their attempts to involve (more) fathers to be successful (13 out of 14 settings) gave as one of their reasons “that the whole staff team support father involvement”. Other evidence suggested that managers did not circulate, or staff did not read, information that was given to settings about father involvement. This led the researchers to recommend additional support/training for managers on getting their staff on board.

• Brief interactions with fathers matter. One setting wrote that it could not complete the final questionnaire “because we have no fathers in our setting”. According to the week-long audits completed by the setting, however, some 30% of people dropping off and collecting children were male carers. These male carers were effectively invisible, and workers need to ensure they make their brief interactions with fathers at the door as positive as possible as this may be the only contact they have with many fathers/male carers.

• The role of gender discussions among staff, mothers and fathers in promoting father involvement could be important. It appeared that staff discussion of gender precedes and possibly sets the scene for parents’ discussions.

Read the executive summary and full report by downloading from the research section of the Pre-school Learning Alliance website.