Bringing Fathers In: the background

16 November 2014

Our 2012 review, Fatherhood: Parenting Programmes and Policy – A Critical Review of Best Practice, examined evidence from across the world about parenting and other programmes’ focus on father-involvement as a means to impact on family violence, child abuse, children’s health or learning.

The background to the review was a strong evidence base showing that:

  • father-child relationships – be they positive, negative or lacking, at any stage in the life of the child, and in all cultural and ethnic communities – have profound and wide-ranging impacts on children that last a lifetime.
  • high levels of father involvement are associated with positive outcomes for children including better physical and mental health, higher educational achievement and lower criminality and substance misuse.
  • mothers who feel supported by their children‘s fathers suffer less parenting stress and parent more positively.

We knew, therefore, that parenting programmes that foster paternal responsiveness and involvement – and interventions in maternal and child health settings, schools etc where men are viewed as allies and advocates for their children’s (and their children’s mothers’) welfare – ought to be beneficial.

But when we looked for such programmes and interventions, what we found was this:

  1. There’s some promising practice out there, like the Écoles des Maris (‘Schools for Husbands’) in Niger – a UN-funded project that aims to transform the attitudes and behaviour of whole communities by training maris modèles (‘model husbands’) to spread the word about the benefits of using local health services. Whilst we do not have rigorous evaluation evidence of the effectiveness of Ecole des Maris, testimony from the men involved, and from pregnant women and new mothers, indicates that the scheme has transformed attitudes towards healthcare, as well as substantially increasing the rates of attended labour in a country where maternal and child death rates at birth remain high.
  1. Crucially, in general, interventions and programmes pay scant attention to fathers – for example, few parenting interventions address father-engagement, or consider men’s role in parenting (and child maltreatment); evaluated programmes aiming to promote child wellbeing or prevent violence tend to be exclusively mother-focused. Few interventions are robustly evaluated, and few disaggregate findings by sex…fathers are still invisible or assumed to be absent.

Our report made five recommendations:

  1. Engage fathers in existing family support, child development and maternal/child health programmes.
  2. Involve fathers early on.
  3. Welcome fathers in universal services, not just targeted interventions.
  4. Focus on holistic, multi-dimensional programmes, combining community-based and national-level advocacy campaigns.
  5. Carry out pilot research to engage men in existing, large-scale programmes (eg those focused on maternal health and child survival) in the Global South.

Bringing Fathers In, a set of resources launched in 2014, are designed to provide practitioners, programme designers, evaluators and advocates with tools through which to meet those recommendations. You can download them here.

Both our 2012 report and the Bringing Fathers In resources were developed with the support of the Bernard Van Leer Foundation.

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