Case study: Father-inclusive practice in the North East

26 July 2008

 . . .with special reference to a Sure Start Children’s Centre in Durham . . .

ROGER OLLEY and his team, based at Children North-East have been developing engagement with fathers in the region for more than ten years. A particularly productive partnership has been with Sure Start Ferryhill & Chilton (now Dean Bank Children’s Centre) where fathers no longer simply attend “men’s activities” but access a range of services. How was this achieved?

Leadership & Support

• Serious commitment to including fathers from CC manager over many years
• CC Manager operates from a community development (not a health) model, so inherently inclusive
• CC Manager arranged for support to be provided to the fathers’ worker by outside consultants (this increased the worker’s skills and knowledge base and protected her against burn-out)
• Emphasis placed on how engaging with fathers can help workers meet existing goals (e.g. higher breastfeeding rates)

Recruiting fathers

Management/staff helped to see that fathers would only come in if they felt they had “permission” to attend. This would involve:

• senior managers agreeing that men are important and should be included
• senior managers/staff recognising that all sessions should be relevant to fathers and recognise their position – e.g. providing breastfeeding leaflets specially designed for dads
• workers feeling comfortable with men and pleased to see them
• female service users being willing for men to use the service alongside themselves
• the men being given permission to act like men rather than like honorary women

Preparing the workforce – and the service users

• Ongoing whole-team training in engaging with dads (often delivered in “bite-sized chunks’ – i.e. 2-hours slots – by the outside consultants)
• Staff required to “audit” male involvement, in order both to obtain baseline-data, and to help them “see” the men already accessing the service, however tangentially
• Wider partners – e.g. health visitors – included in the training
• Personal reflection required by staff (one-on-one as necessary, with appropriate support provided) to explore own attitudes to engaging with dads
• Whole-team skill-building strategies – e.g.
o dads’ worker accompanying outreach staff in home visiting, to “model” positive engagement with fathers
o Workers other than the fathers’ worker encouraged to attend the dads’ groups
o Fathers’ worker attended women’s services (or those mainly used by women) to answer questions/allay fears about enhancing male-involvement
o Existing service users (mainly women) kept fully informed about father-inclusion plans

Developing father-inclusive systems

• Routinely gathering the contact details of both resident and non-resident fathers has required re-designed registration forms
• The forms also assess the father’s situation/needs (model form available from
• If a referral doesn’t mention father(s), the referring agency is requested to provide this information (model referral form available from
• When general “family worker” posts are advertised, working with fathers is identified as a requirement
• The issue of engaging with dads is raised in both induction and supervision.
• In supervision, there are clear ‘prompt’ questions: ‘how are you including fathers?’ ‘how’s it going working with fathers?’
• In all Centre literature, including job descriptions and advertisements, the word “parents” is replaced with “mothers and fathers” wherever possible

Fathers groups?

• Activities designed to appeal to men (e.g. a Martial Arts course, food hygiene) have been developed out of identified needs
• Fathers are discouraged from remaining within a men-only activity/group and encouraged to
o use other services – now accessing Stay & Play, Baby Massage etc.
o move on into training, work (including in childcare) and developing parenting skills
• Learning outcomes are attached to trips and special activities to help the fathers reflect and enable the impact of this provision to be evaluated
• Informal conversations are carefully listened to by staff, who are expert at identifying fathers’ needs and meeting these or referring on.

Keeping going . . .

The whole culture is so heavily weighted towards servicing women while passively (and sometimes actively) excluding men, that it is essential to continue to exert ongoing pressure to include fathers: however successful their inclusion seems to be, you can never, ever, rest on your laurels!

More detail about this case study . . .

Find out more by clicking on “Interview with Roger Olley” in the RELATED DOCUMENTS at the bottom of this page.


Durham University Centre for Applied Social Research (2005)


Roger Olley
Head of Service (Fatherwork)
Children North East
89 Denhill Park
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE15 6QE

Tel: 08451307225

Interview with Roger Olley

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