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Working with fathers

When working towards reducing the gender bias in child protection, Tehan and McDonald (2010) highlight some important points about what may contribute to men’s/fathers’ engagement in child protection:

  • Most communities have spaces where men gather. These spaces provide opportunities for promoting programs and avenues for support aimed specifically at fathers.
  • Men may be uncomfortable with services and practitioners that emphasise the provision of ‘support’, because it suggests they are not coping.
  • Men are more likely to attend a child and family service if their partners encourage them to do so. Similarly, if a partner discourages involvement, a man may be less willing to engage with a service.
  • Services that operate only during business hours are most accessible to people who are home during the day. Flexible hours of operation significantly impact on the accessibility of a service to fathers who work. If fathers are not home during the day, making times around the father’s schedule is important and sends a message to the father about their importance as a parent. This is also an important consideration for connecting with male carers who work during the day.
  • Having positive images of men and fathers in posters and brochures around the workplace shows our service welcomes fathers and recognises their importance.
  • Men can respond positively to activities that provide hands-on learning opportunities rather than seminars and presentations.
  • Having programs specifically for men may increase the likelihood of men attending a service.
  • Some men (as well as women) may feel uncomfortable discussing personal issues openly in a service environment. Strategies to reduce this discomfort include:
    • for workers to speak about their own experience
    • interacting side by side rather than face to face
    • discussing issues while they are engaged in an activity

Research demonstrates that a strengths-based approach with parents increases the effectiveness of a program and improves parental engagement. This aligns with the Strengthening families Protecting children Framework for Practice and strengthens Child Safety's approach to reducing the gender bias in child protection.

The following observations show how a strengths-based approach in your practice can help reduce gender bias and engage fathers in placements:

  • A strengths-based approach to fathers and fathering is characterised by a focus on fathers' capacities and the value of fathering. In practice this can be:
    • sharing information with fathers about how they already contribute and how they can further contribute to the wellbeing of their children
    • seeking information from the father about the child’s routine, favourite foods, medical information etc
    • resisting taking an ‘expert’ approach.
  • A strengths-based approach to fathers and fathering is especially important because:
    • fathers' competence in dealing with the emotional aspects of parenting small children can be underestimated within their own families and in the general community
    • due to stereotypical views of men's abilities (as compared to women's) men may not realise their capacity to contribute positively to their children's health and development.
  • Improving engagement with men requires partnering that is based on notions of equality, highlights their existing strengths and is non-judgmental.

Practice prompt

Reflecting on this, what can you do to improve your partnering with fathers in placements?

How can fathers influence and support placements of their children?

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