Parenting services fail to engage both parents, says Fatherhood Institute

9 October 2009

For immediate release: 9 October 2009

Many programmes ineffective in engaging both mum and dad, says Fatherhood Institute in new report

Many parenting programmes promoted as effective with ‘parents’ are failing to engage mothers and fathers, according to a new report launched by the Fatherhood Institute today.

Fathers and Parenting Interventions: What Works? assesses the current content and delivery of the most common parenting courses and highlights the most effective strategies for recruiting fathers and supporting father-child relationships. It looks at fathers’ attitudes, life experiences and experience of services, and how their behaviour impacts on children – and demonstrates the importance of gender-specific approaches in parenting services.

The report pulls together the latest research showing the benefits to children, mothers and fathers of including many different kinds of fathers (such as fathers of children with disabilities, stepfathers, young fathers and separated dads). Evidence shows that when both parents are involved in a parenting programme, families are less likely to drop out and positive change tends to occur earlier and be maintained for longer. This is especially true where there is significant parental conflict.

This report therefore urges parenting-service commissioners, who are increasingly being required by government to ensure local services engage with fathers, to adopt its recommendations.

Why parenting programmes should be modified

Adrienne Burgess, author of the guide and Head of Research at the Fatherhood Institute said: “In these times of recession, it is crucial that publicly funded parenting services are shown to be money well spent. So it was shocking to discover the extent to which standard programmes promoted as being effective with ‘parents’ had not, in fact, been found to work well in supporting father-child relationships. The methods and content of these programmes need to be modified, and delivered by well trained staff who are aware of their own attitudes to men and fathers, and who understand ‘where dads are coming from’. When this happens programmes are more cost-effective, with fathers, mothers and children all benefitting.”

Fiona Taylor, Strategic Development Manager for Surrey Parenting Education and Support, said: “There is widespread acknowledgement within our parenting services of the need to engage more proactively with fathers in order to promote a holistic approach to supporting parenthood. In Surrey we recognise the challenge that we face in providing such services, and the need to ensure that practitioners understand the role of fathers, and the benefits for children and young people of having positively involved fathers.

“There is a continuing need to work with fathers as well as mothers so that they have access to quality evidence based parenting programmes and interventions. For example, we are currently enhancing local provision through the development of a specific fatherhood programme, which will form a key part of our workforce development within children and family services.”

A checklist for parenting programme commissioners

The guide provides a 10-point Commissioning Checklist, to help commissioners improve children’s wellbeing by ensuring they develop programmes as part of an overall father-inclusive strategy. Key recommendations include:
• Parenting programmes should reflect both fathers’ and mothers’ experiences, and address fathers’ roles in child development, masculinity and caring, parenting across households, stepfathering, etc
• Each local authority should have a strategic planning group with specific responsibility for father inclusiveness, and developing effective leadership to embed new father-inclusive approaches.
• Local strategies should be informed by regular consultation with a wide range of local fathers and mothers.
• Specific strategies are required to increase the proportion of male staff delivering parenting services.

New training course for parenting practitioners

The Fatherhood Institute also offers consultancy and support to help local commissioners of services develop a father-inclusive approach, and is launching a new training course for parenting practitioners – called Delivering Father-Inclusive Parenting Services – to enable them to work with fathers effectively.

Adrienne Burgess said: “Fathers who don’t attend parenting courses are often assumed not to be interested. However, the evidence suggests that when services set out systematically to engage with every father in every family as part of their routine work, deliver services at appropriate times and communicate to these men exactly why their participation will benefit their children, very many fathers will take part.”


Notes to editors

  • For further information, a free Executive Summary of Fathers and Parenting Interventions: What Works? and interviews with Adrienne Burgess, please contact Melissa Milner 020 7793 4035 / 07976 636 228 or Kemi Bamgbose 020 7793 4036
  • The Full Report can be purchased, price £10, here.
  • The Fatherhood Institute is the UK’s leading provider of training, consultancy and publications to support local children’s services to engage with and support fathers. The Fatherhood Institute is now responsible for the Think Fathers campaign, launched by DCSF to encourage all children and family services to engage appropriately with fathers and support father-child and parental relationships.
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