What does father-proofing mean in practice? DR GARY CLAPTON presents two major new papers showing exactly how organisations often unconsciously exclude dads – and the huge growth in those who have turned proudly “father-friendly”.
Very few family services would say they don’t work with fathers. However, the vast majority of services do not offer a specific service for fathers. In 2007, of a sample of 382 Scottish services for parents, only three services were adapted to suit the needs of fathers. Less than a decade later, however, there’s been a marked increase in awareness.
Our survey found a more than 900 per cent increase to more than 80 services, projects and agencies that in one way or another are either for dads, are dad-friendly or reach out to include dads. What is striking is the range and variety of aims and the fact that it includes not only national charities and councils but also local projects and self-help groups.
And that’s without capturing the unsung, unpublicised, day-to-day father inclusive practice that we know exists out there. We look forward to promoting these in the future.How do we know this? In late 2015, Fathers Network Scotland set out to establish and publish the first comprehensive picture of resources for dads.
With the assistance of Scottish Government researcher, Robert Little, we canvassed children and family services in the local government, health and third sector services throughout Scotland, along with other services known to us. And the results are cause for celebration – and newly available to everyone in our new paper Here’s Dad.
WHERE'S DAD TOO?
However, getting dad in the picture continues to be a challenge, which is why we have also published Where’s Dad Too? – a new and revised edition of Where’s Dad?, which for more than two years has helped us campaign for more father-inclusive practices.
We have focussed particularly on publicity, policy, education and practice in Scottish children and family services including the Scottish government, local councils, the health services and the third sector – and there are some examples of success in this new edition, where a number of the agencies have altered their publicity to make it more father-inclusive.
The most obvious example is the cover of the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland, seen here in its 2010 and 2014 forms - utterly different in tone and underlying implication.
We’ve adopted the term ‘father-proofing’ to describe this process – a conscious strategy of future-proofing our society to be the best place for our children to grow up. The value of positively involved fathering is incontestable and proven (Burgess, 2008), and based on four principles;
• it increases children’s well-being.
• it boosts men’s self-esteem and improves well-being and purpose in life.
• it boosts social and community resources by, for example, helping out others with parenting, and by participating in group play in local parks.
• it makes for greater equality in the home
A consensus is emerging that we now need to move on from having to prove the value of fathers to designing services that include rather than marginalise them.
FATHER-PROOFING OUR WORLD
Such messages are often particularly strong in publicity and training materials. So we’ve also put together a new Father-proofing toolkit with guidance for Marketing and Communications, and suggestions about how to make changes to ensure that family services welcome both mothers and fathers.That obviously means encouraging positive attitudes among staff (men and women) and a dedication to father-friendly provision – but the importance of image projected by services cannot be underestimated.
Image – conveyed either visually, as in the example above, or in how fathers are written about – creates a first impression, for example the look and ‘feel’ of a waiting room or reception area. All of this gives off messages which can say that this service is really just for women and mothers – and this in turn compounds the burden on women and restricts the opportunity for men to get more involved in the lives of their children and families.
There’s still a long way to go. In Here’s Dad, for example, specific services for categories of fathers such as adoptive fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, father figures, black and minority ethnic fathers, fathers whose first language is not English, are included simply because we have not been informed about them. Undoubtedly, news of services and resources for these groups will feature in what we hope will become a regular and growing publication.
FNS FATHER-FRIENDLY DIRECTORY
And don’t forget that we also run a parallel online resource called the FNS Directory of Father-friendly groups and organisations, which can be accessed and updated freely by groups wishing to publicise their services. You’re invited to visit and contribute to this ever-expanding directory at: www.fathersnetwork.org.uk/directory.
We hope these new publications will help our friends and partner organisations spread the word about the win-win of a father-friendly world – and the difference a great dad can make to our children, families, communities and organisations.
- Here's Dad read it
- Where's Dad Too read it
- Father-proofing Guidance for Marketing and Communications read it
Dr Gary Clapton is a dad, a grandfather, a founder & board member of Fathers Network Scotland, and a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh. His interests & expertise include Children and Family work, Adoption and Fostering, Fathers and Fatherhood and how students best learn. His doctoral research in 2003 was published as 'Birth fathers and their adoption experiences'. He has authored four of our reports: Dad Matters, Where's Dad, Where's Dad Too, and Here's Dad.