Major Fatherhood Institute survey shows services must bridge the ‘dad deficit’

22 June 2009

Today’s dads are playing an increasing role in their children’s lives – yet still find it difficult to be as regularly involved in their health and education as they desire, a new ICM poll commissioned by the Fatherhood Institute says today.

The poll of 500 dads from across Great Britain reveals that dads want to see services changing to meet increasing levels of involvement:
• 77% want to see longer opening hours so they can learn about and contribute to their child’s welfare
• Three quarters (75%) want information provided that is relevant to dads and not just mums.
• 82% want to see staff employed who recognise fathers’ contributions in children’s lives
• 78% want appropriate facilities provided so that fathers aren’t shut out

Barriers to involvement

Three quarters (77%) of dads say they’d like future mums and dads to share parenting roles flexibly, rather than either parent acting as ‘main carer’. But despite their ever-growing involvement – 96% of dads have taken their children to medical appointments and 93% have attended schools events such as parent’s evening and sports days – there are still real barriers to regular involvement.

Only 61% of dads regularly attend ante-natal classes and only 36% regularly take their children to or from school. More than half of dads ‘rarely’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘never’ take part in home visits by the health visitors or attend the clinic when their child is between 2 months up to 5 years old.

Adrienne Burgess, Research Manager at the Fatherhood Institute said: “Fathers are passionate about their children and want to be close to them. They also recognise the importance of changing nappies and other basic childcare, and knowing what’s going on at school and with friends. However, the “mumsiness” of most child-related services and some outdated attitudes and working practices (such as opening hours), plus difficulty taking time off work mean there are very real barriers to fathers’ being properly involved”.

We want your views

The results come as the Fatherhood Institute launches the ‘Big Fatherhood Debate’ – inviting all dads, mums and service providers to contribute to the largest every online survey on dads and services and to share their views on the future of fatherhood. The findings will contribute to the first ever ‘Annual State of Fatherhood’ report to be published in Spring 2010.

The poll’s findings are particularly striking for fathers aged 18-34:
• 70% of the younger dads attended ‘most’ or ‘all’ of the ante-natal scans, compared to 45% of dads over 55
• A third (33%) of younger dads had stayed overnight in the maternity ward when their child was born – compared with 21% of dads overall.

But despite this, younger dads feel services are not helping them to engage effectively:
• Less than half (49%) are happy with their involvement with health visitors – compared to 62% of dads overall
• Only 41% are happy with their involvement with schools – compared to 69% of dads overall
• 74% think that information provided by services is more geared towards mums than dads.

Adrienne Burgess said: “The fact that the younger generation of dads are more involved with services yet less happy with the level of their involvement and with the way services treat them, doesn’t mean services are getting worse: it means that the expectations of today’s fathers are changing. They’re more ambitious to play a greater role, and more upset and undermined when they’re sidelined. Services, and employers, need to take this new mood among dads on board so they can be fully hands-on with their children. Fathers want it; mothers want it; children want it. And society needs it.”

The ‘Big Fatherhood Debate’ is open to all dads, mums, children’s services professionals, employers and others.

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