20 Aug 2018

Including dads in parenting programmes

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:16 pm on 20 August 2018

Involving both parents in parenting programmes is hugely beneficial to children, but the assumption - from practitioners and fathers alike - means dads are much less likely to take part, Australian research shows. 

Vilas Sawrikar is the senior project leader on the Like Father Like Son Project from the University of Sydney, and says there's two parts to the problem. 

Tales of our Fathers

Tales of our Fathers Photo: Pixabay

"This is a multi-level issue where … we want to make dads more aware of the fact that there are these types of programmes - parenting programmes and other early intervention programmes - that they can engage themselves into for helping their child achieve better outcomes. 

"It seems to be an important message the resonates strongly with dads, that once it clicks in their head and the penny drops that their involvement can lead to better outcomes - socially, academically, and in health as well - then they’re more willing to want to engage. 

It's not just a matter of getting fathers to engage, however, and providers need to step up and be more welcoming to fathers.

"We have this other problem where organisations seem to have a preference to want to engage with mothers, or they’re just really resistant to want to make extra efforts to try and engage dads, however difficult it might be or in what context it might be."

"Many of the programmes that have been developed have been developed on models where the mother is the primary caretaker or the mother is the main nurturer. 

Check out RNZ's Insight documentary on stay-at-home dads in New Zealand:

"What that has meant is that the voice or .... the influence of the fathers has been largely ignored."

There could be several causes for this, but some are starting to be identified. 

"One of the key things that seems to come out from the research that exists is that there’s an assumption - that both the practitioner and the dads seem fall into ... that the dads are not doing a great job. They’re the weak spot. 

"Fathers become very resistant, they don’t want to hear that message and … they become very anxious about putting themselves in an environment where that might be the message that practitioners and other people in that environment might give them.

"So, part of it is shifting the attitudes and beliefs around it … in a way that says both parents have a valuable role in parenting this child." 

He says there are several initiatives being pushed forward in Australia by the group. 

"Even shifting simple stuff, like collecting data on whether the mother and the father attended sessions, addressing any barriers the fathers may have in not being able to attend the session ... or getting a second session.

"Simple stuff like that can have a huge impact for how effective that treatment programme may be."

He says they hope to take their research to a more international level as well.  

"And look at whether that’s actually the case, whether what’s happening in Australia is similarly going on in New Zealand, the UK and Canada.  

"Once we get through that barrier we can start to devise some recommendations that help to address the common elements. 

"And then to empower those people in policy and those practitioners to help them address the bits that are a bit more unique to their own cultural and country context."