FI joins DCSF to challenge local managers to drive forward national fatherhood policies

13 November 2008

The Fatherhood Institute – the UK’s fatherhood think-tank and leading provider of training, consultancy and publications on father-inclusive practice – today (13 November 2008) calls on Local Authorities, children’s services and Primary Care Trusts to redouble their efforts to deliver services that meet the needs of children for strong relationships with their dads as well as mums.

New DCSF-commissioned research* published today confirms that national policies on fatherhood need to be driven forward more effectively at local level by managers from public and voluntary agencies across a variety of sectors, including maternity services, Children’s Centres, schools and youth services.

A new campaign – ‘Think Fathers’

Over the next six months, the Institute will be working with the Department for Children, Schools and Families on ‘Think Fathers’, a new campaign launched today by children’s minister Beverley Hughes, who called on family services to think distinctively about fathers rather than treating them as the ‘invisible parent’: “Let’s grasp the nettle. Let’s make sure we ‘think fathers’ in every service we deliver and every policy we unveil.”

Bringing together employers, children’s services, practitioners and voluntary organisations to look at what more can be done to give dads the support they need, the campaign will include:
•   a ‘Think Fathers’ guide to help children’s services to improve the way they work with dads
•   a ‘Think Fathers’ summit to encourage public services, professionals and the voluntary sector to look distinctively at fathers – not just generically at parents, and
•   an online ‘Dads Dialogue’, with fathers, mothers and children creating a user-generated collection of views, feelings, anecdotes and memories about fatherhood, family policy, challenges and successes.

Why local managers need to take the lead

But the Institute is also today calling on key managers across the public and voluntary sector to take the lead on engaging more effectively with fathers in the areas for which they are responsible.

Key barriers to engaging fathers in children’s services, as identified by the DCSF research, include:

•   A lack of training and skills among managers and practitioners to help them understand the needs of fathers and engage effectively with them
•   An absence of systematic engagement with fathers, eg health services (including midwifery and ante-natal services) not adequately identifying and engaging with fathers (particularly young fathers) during the important initial stages of pregnancy and birth
•   Many fathers thinking that children’s services are ‘not for them’, and not feeling included by communications which are aimed at generic ‘parents’, rather than referring directly to fathers and using positive images of fathers and their children.

What to do

In an email briefing sent today to more than 6,000 key decision-makers in Local Authorities, children’s services and primary care trusts across England today, the Institute outlines five key approaches managers can take to play their part in making services more father-inclusive:

1. Be well-informed. Familiarise yourself with the fatherhood ‘elements’ of existing and new policy frameworks, and keep up to date on the key research on fathers and fatherhood relevant to your field
2. Be strategic. Develop strong leadership and strategic planning around fatherhood in your local area, and ensure that you have robust processes for monitoring and evaluating your services’ engagement with fathers
3. Be systematic. Ensure local services engage systematically with fathers (including groups of fathers often referred to as ‘hard to reach’) and communicate routinely and proactively to mums, dads, children and others that all local services are for fathers as well as mothers.
4. Develop your workforce. Train your managers and staff to ensure that father-inclusive practice is understood and seen as a priority
5. Work in partnership with other local agencies, and with fathers and their families, to develop integrated services which adequately support father-child relationships.

Our briefing also points managers towards the many sources of support the Fatherhood Institute can provide. These include:

Training and consultancy services – including support to run specific interventions (such as the Hit the Ground Crawling antenatal peer-support programme for dads, training on specific aspects of father-inclusive practice (for example courses on Women Working with Fathers), ‘fatherproofing’ of local authority parenting strategies (i.e. reviewing for omissions/wording that allow practitioners to fail to reach out to, or actively exclude, fathers) auditing of local services, and bespoke, borough-wide service delivery packages

Publications – including the Toolkit for Father-Inclusive Practice, a range of online research summaries and Dad cards and Dad packs to hand out to fathers. Between now and the end of March 2009 the Institute will also be launching a set of posters, a set of fatherhood-themed photo-cards which can be used to train staff and work with mums, dads and children, and a guide on working with young fathers.

* The research found that almost all (98%) of family practitioners, Local Authorities and policy officials surveyed thought services were more likely to be used by mothers than by dads. Only a fifth (22%) felt that fathers’ needs were explicitly met in their local authority. Click here to download the Research Brief, and here for the full Report.