Mainstreaming father support in Family Hubs

1 September 2022

In its Family Hubs and Start for Life programme guide, published in August 2022, the Government has set out its vision for a £300 million programme covering 2022-25. We are delighted to report that within the document’s 112 pages, the word ‘fathers’ appears 26 times – enough to persuade us that at a national level, there is an explicit understanding of the need for fathers to be woven into the design, delivery and evaluation of family services.

But while father-inclusion is spelled out as a clear expectation in the guide and accompanying annexes (something to be welcomed, because so often it is not), we know that turning this into a reality can be a major challenge.

Father-inclusion can seem disarmingly simple, and sometimes small changes can make a big difference. Changing invitation letters to say ‘Dear Mum and Dad’ rather than ‘Dear Parents’ has been shown to result in higher attendance by fathers at postnatal home visits by health visitors, for example[1].

But father-focused work often falls flat: we’ve lost count of the number of well-meaning “dads’ groups” we’ve seen come and go in our 20-plus years researching and advocating for systematic father-inclusive services and approaches. There’s often a knee-jerk assumption that men need or want male-only peer support, when in fact evidence suggests that well designed, implemented and evaluated inclusion of fathers within mainstream services can be more successful.

Indeed, fathers are MUCH more likely (three times so) to engage with parenting support when services are ‘mature’ in their father-engagement – and even fathers who DON’T get involved are more likely, when services are ‘mature’, to be aware of the possible benefits to their children, and therefore more likely to support their children’s and or partner’s participation[2].

How does a service become mature in its engagement with dads? Well, there’s no single model, but it involves not only changes in practice but also paradigmatic shifts in thinking by the whole team. Some key features of a mature service[3] are:

  • Fathers being consistently viewed as co-parents, with staff helping mothers and fathers to reflect on how each father contributes to his child’s health and development
  • An agency-wide commitment to attract and involve fathers; programmes being perceived as being as much for fathers as for mothers; and fathers being regularly discussed in case conferencing – and included in conferences
  • Activities often allowing for fathers and children to do things together, and being linked to other programme components, such as home visits
  • ‘Special’ father/ male activities no longer being regarded as the vehicle for father-involvement. Instead, a wide array of programme efforts to include fathers exist; and adjustments in service delivery have been made to meet the needs of working fathers and mothers
  • The employment and training of a father-involvement co-ordinator, and the programme being seen as a leader in its community, in terms of father-involvement.
  • Commitment by programme leadership to engage in ongoing critical and reflective thinking and regular self-evaluations.

One of the great things about the Family Hubs programme is that there’s the potential for local authorities to embed high quality, long-term, strategic approaches to father-inclusion from pre-conception and antenatal services, through to health visiting, early years education, primary schools, social work and beyond.

Investment in workforce development training to skill up the practitioners, managers and leaders who can run this work and keep father-inclusion high on the agenda, will be crucial – as will evidence-based interventions that have been shown to be effective with fathers.

We’re here to help you find the best solutions. In our brochure, which you can download below as a PDF, we’ve set out some ideas about what our support might look like – but we’re also able to put together bespoke packages.

Join us for one of our free events

Time with Dad: Involving Fathers in the Home Learning Environment
7 October, 12.30: Online

How could helping fathers support their children’s learning and development, maximise Family Hubs’ impact? Featuring contributions from FI Head of Research, Adrienne Burgess; Head of Training, Jeszemma Howl and PIECE study principal investigator Dr Helen Norman. Book on Eventbrite now: places are strictly limited.

Mainstreaming Father Support in Family Hubs
13 October, 12.30: Online

Join us for a ‘deep dive’ into how to make your Family Hubs a trailblazing model of father-inclusive practice. Book on Eventbrite now: places are strictly limited.

Please contact our Head of Training, Jeszemma Howl if you’d like to discuss things further. You can email her at mail@fatherhoodinstitute.org or give her a call/text on 0791 786 413.


[1] For the full case study see Guide to Developing a Father-Inclusive Workforce at http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/uploads/publications/460.pdf (page 5)

[2] For more on this see Raikes, H.H., Summers, J.A., & Roggman, L.A. (2005). Father involvement in Early Head Start programs. Fathering, 3(1), 29-58; and McAllister, C.L., Wilson, P.C., & Burton, J. (2004). From sports fans to nurturers: an Early Head Start program’s evolution toward father involvement. Fathering, 2(1), 31-60)

[3] See Raikes at al (2005) – referenced in footnote 2.

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