Refining the task of father-inclusive practice

Content type
Event date

12 March 2015, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Richard Fletcher, Jennifer StGeorge


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About this webinar

This webinar was held on 12 March 2015.

The role of fathers in the lives of their young children has expanded steadily over recent decades.

Incorporating fathers into established family-related services, however, has not been straightforward. A decade after family services came together in a national Forum on Father-inclusive Practice, we are seeing a resurgence of interest in how fathers can be included across family services and programs.   

In this webinar, Richard Fletcher and Jennifer St George presented the evidence on "what works" to engage fathers, based on a recent review of the literature (PDF) conducted for ARACY and the Australian Government. Two aspects, the place of co-parenting and the notion of “keeping fathers in mind” were explored, and recent mental health initiatives using digital technology with fathers were described. Participants were invited to assess their own understanding and knowledge of father-inclusiveness.

This event was presented in partnership with ARACY.

Audio transcript (edited)

Webinar facilitated & speakers introduced by Monica Campo


Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the CFCA webinar, Refining the Task of Father-inclusive Practice. My name is Monica Campo and I'm a senior research officer in the CFCA information exchange here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Today's webinar will present evidence on what works to engage fathers and family related services based on recent review of the literature conducted for ARASI and the Australian Government. Two aspects of the review explored in today's webinar, the place of co-parenting and the notion of keeping fathers in mind, and recent mental health initiatives using digital technology with fathers will also be described.

Before I introduce you to our speakers, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting. In Melbourne, the traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and to the elders from other communities who may be participating today.

It's now my pleasure to introduce today's presenters, Dr Richard Fletcher and Dr Jennifer St George. Dr Richard Fletcher is a senior lecturer in the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle. He has been conducting programs and research with boys, fathers and families for over 20 years, and is the convener of the Australian Fatherhood Research Network. His current research includes fathers roles in families with PND, young parents' strengths, father-infant attachment, Aboriginal fathering, fathers of children with autism, using the web for parent support, and supporting separated parents of young children.

Dr Jennifer St George is a senior lecturer in family studies at the University of Newcastle. Jennifer's work in family research explores several related areas, including father engagement in human services, father's roles in child development and parenting processes. She has a particular interest in using qualitative methodologies to explore personal and developmental aspects of family life.

Now before I hand you over to our fabulous speakers, I'll just alert you to some brief housekeeping details. One of the core functions of the CFCA information exchange is to share knowledge. So I'd like to remind everyone that they can submit questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar. There will be a limited amount of time for questions at the end of the presentation and we will try to respond to as many as possible. We also want you to continue the conversation we begin here today. To facilitate this, we will set up a web forum on the CFCA website where you can discuss the ideas and issues raised and share your own experiences of what has or hasn't worked to engage fathers. An email will be sent with more information regarding this following the webinar. Please remember that the webinar is being recorded and that the audio, transcript and presentation slides will be made available on the CFCA website shortly. And now without further ado, over to our presenters, Dr Richard Fletcher and Dr Jennifer St George.


Thank you, Monica and good afternoon everybody. Here it's the afternoon in Newcastle, where we are, where Jennifer and I are sitting ready to talk to you, but we know that the invitation went out through the Men Can network internationally. So we anticipate there might be some people in different time zones. It's a virtual seminar, in that we can't see you and everything's done over the web. But Jennifer and I are sitting here in Newcastle and the land that we are meeting on from our point of view, we would like to acknowledge the traditional owners here, the Pambalong people of the Awabakal Nation, and pay our respects to elders past and present.

So what I'm talking about is father-inclusive practice and my time frame for that, which is convenient since it's a decade since the Father-inclusive Practice Forum. This is a forum that we convened here in Newcastle, asking people from around Australia who were practitioners, policy makers, researchers, to come and talk about where they were up to with father-inclusive practice. We knew there was a lot happening, but there was no way of pulling it together or sort of linking what people were doing. We particularly were interested in not just the programs, because as you know it's quite possible to see programs being presented that are trying to engage fathers, some successfully.

We were very interested though in what were the successful elements there and particularly the changes that you might see in an organisational level or in procedures that an organisation engaged in. That was quite challenging for some of our presenters who were very keen to tell people about the wonderful work they were doing, understandably. But we really pushed to have more of an organisational perspective and see what difference it needed to make. Because we knew from experience that one enthusiastic practitioner can be moved on and then the program stops.

We identified these three areas of staff competencies, procedures and policies, and organisational changes. Some of that was a surprise to us when we pulled together the people and the material in the staff competencies, for example. When we initially put out the call, we had in mind that there might be a generic set of competencies for engaging fathers or including fathers. What we discovered through conversation with practitioners and presenters was that in fact there seemed to be multiple sets of competency. So that the set of skills and attitudes and competencies you might need for running an antenatal dance group was quite different than what you might need to running a playgroup, or obviously an Aboriginal men's group, or further down the track a group for fathers who'd been separated from their children.

So we identified that there were multiple areas, more than we'd anticipated when we developed that forum in 2005. But a positive coming together, I suppose you might say, was this set of principles were agreed on. You can see that on the website under principles of father-inclusive practice, there's more detail, but the headings give the idea of the range of things that we thought were important principles, none of them too controversial I imagine. And since then, in that ten-year frame, what I'm just going to cover briefly are some of the developments that mean it’s now time to reconsider father-inclusive practice and hopefully take it a step further.

So on the left there's the description or there's the cover of a father's matter, a publication that was very popular in Victoria. It came out in 2009 – a joint project between the Victorian Government and the raising children network. The image on the right is for a father-inclusive practice guide, which is still available on the web free and is a fantastic resource. And this was a bolder project where nine of us were nominated as mentors in father engagement. We were each given two organisations to work with who had put their hand up to say they would like to have more fathers involved, and so over a period of about 18 months we worked together. That practice guide is a result of that project and it’s still available.

In South Australia, they were at that time – in 2009 actually the year before this publication – the South Australian government was in the process of developing 20 new children's centres. Those children's centres are in the traditional mould and would have seen nearly all mums come in for parenting programs, for mums and bubs programs and for immunisation and other health-related activities. The South Australian Government in this project supported a two-year project, which was a mixture of running staff development and an action research project to try and include fathers more in those children's centres. It was quite successful, as this report attests, which is also available on the web.

It's an example of somebody taking a sort of more comprehensive approach to father inclusion and working with the practitioners on the ground and supplying some resources. It wasn't a cheap project in that sense but it was effective. In Western Australia a couple of years ago, at the policy 
level – so this was an unusual event really that a state government would issue a policy around fathers and the Western Australian one is worth reading. It's a set of statements about how you should include fathers in services that are aimed at supporting families in the community. And the report referred to that's just been published on the ARACY website, which we completed for ARACY and the Commonwealth is the evidence review of what works and I'll come back to that.

It's also important to acknowledge that there've been legal changes. Whether these follow a long time after community shifts is hard to pinpoint. That's certainly my impression. So the family law reforms, which have had a lot of attention since 2006 because of the issue of domestic violence. However, in terms of father inclusion, one of the important shifts that these law reforms signal was to say that fathers are more important than as a playmate every couple of weekends once a family separates. Similarly, the paternity leave provisions, which began in January 2013, are minimal in the sense that they are two weeks of paid leave at the minimum wage, compared to the 18 weeks for mothers. I think it's important to recognise what sort of messages that indicates. But nevertheless, having paid paternity leave is an important step.

However, this week there was a newspaper report of the evaluation of the PPL, the paid paternity leave scheme, and they noted that 36 per cent of eligible fathers were taking it up. So perhaps the minimum wage aspect is one important area. NGOs are also changing in regard to father-inclusive practice. The Raising Children Network, when that was set up before that 2005 forum, fathers appeared in a category along with all other sort of minor groups and the bulk of the website was focused on mothers. Raising Children Network have since then dramatically improved the website and I think it's a leading source now of information for fathers, with a lot of detailed practical knowledge and an appropriate tone that recognises father's role and includes them well.

Berry Street, some of you will know from Victoria particularly, a very large welfare organisation, out-of-home care, supporting parents and running a large domestic violence program. They have 1000 employees. They've recently commissioned a practice guide for including fathers in all of their work. Karitane, the tertiary level centre for mothers, mainly sleep and settling issues, a longstanding organisation – they've also just put out a father-inclusive practice guide. And there are many conferences where fathers will be talked about, and papers and presentations will be made about fathers. But I just want to acknowledge the Australian Association of Infant Mental Health Conference, because it's quite unusual for a whole conference to be focussed on fathers, and that's the case this year. That's this conference in October. And Father Makes Three – looking at family-inclusive practice starting from the point of starting with dad.

Academia, where we're from has also changed. We're very proud here in the family action centre of our family related courses: the working with men and boys course for those looking at human services; father-infant attachment, which we think is a world first course; and working with vulnerable fathers. They're all part of the Masters in Family Studies, which is a new program just started last year. Now it might be just my impression, but I get the feeling that there's more PhDs than Masters students looking at fathers and father-related topics these days. One important influence, of course, is whether there's money around.

Movember is a very successful fundraiser and I think you can't have an organisation pump you know eight or nine million dollars a year into an area and not have some effect. So I see that Movember's entry into the whole field, promoting the mental health for example of men and boys, has made a very big difference to the fathering area. Beyond Blue likewise has been instrumental in raising the issue of men's depression and as a consequence of that, fathers. I'll talk a little bit about the paternal perinatal depression initiative, which is an initiative arising from our own work here across Australia, towards the end of the slides.

I think the other thing that's happened in that decade is that the evidence has got more solid, and it's solidified or it's more robust in these three areas. So in summary, the evidence says that fathers matter – matter in the sense of they matter to the welfare and the wellbeing of infants, children, infants starting at birth, infants before birth. The first area that fathers have a negative impact on children and child development is important to note. The second, of course, is that they have a positive impact, and the third is the biological connection between mothers and fathers, and their infants.

The first area of impact, the negative impact of a father on his infant or child is, of course, raised by the issue of attention to domestic violence. But it's also important to note that we have more attention to now and recently a publication here from ACE on Fathers Mental Health. So areas like depression, we now recognise are just not – although most people think of postnatal depression as a mother's issue – we now know from the evidence that that's not the case, that father's mental health is also important to attend to.

We also have a number of studies now that evidence father's positive impact when the father interacts with their children in positive ways. So the important thing about these studies is that they demonstrate an effect of the way the father plays with their child, or interacts, or disciplines, or looks after, or reads to their child. The studies demonstrate an effect that's independent of what the mother does. So in the past, fathers were thought to be important but definitely as a second string to the mother. This evidence doesn't say that mothers aren't important of course, but it says that fathers are also important.

The third area is that we now can safely move away from the idea that mothering is biologically based, and fathering is just a social event after conception. The testosterone studies now indicating levels of testosterone in men affecting their likelihood of being fathers and their behaviour once they are fathers. In a range of studies around hormonal influence, such as oxytocin, they can demonstrate an effect on the way fathers parent – the way they do their fathering. A recent summary from the American National Science Association on fathers plasticity – fathers’ brains plasticity – so that fathers interacting with their infants changes their brain. There is now evidence that when we're talking about fatherhood, we are talking about biological factors.

We also have new understanding of father/infant attachment. Again, saying that it's not better than mother/infant attachment, but saying that it's different to mother/infant attachment in many ways, and alongside the famous strange situation procedure for measuring attachment, we now have the risky situation procedure as an acknowledgement that there might be different ways of forming an attachment.

To go back to the review that we completed just at the end of last year, the areas that we identified as important for engaging fathers were not very surprising, I suppose – staff skills and competencies, service level features, community values, and of course policy. I'll return to some of these issues after Jennifer has quizzed you about some aspects of father-inclusive practice. So now that you've been lulled into a false sense of security, I'll hand you over to Jennifer, who's going to ask you things.


Hello. I'm going to talk you through a few areas of father engagement that we, and others, have found might be sticking points in the process of engaging fathers. A few years after the family law reforms in 2006, when the task of involving fathers in family services became more urgent, we undertook some research to explore practitioners’ experiences of working with fathers. In particular, we focused on their confidence in working with men and their knowledge about various aspects of fathers’ roles, their relationships to children and the issues that bring them into family services. The findings of the research pointed to practitioner strength, as well as gaps. So the checklist we develop can be useful to supervision and in staff development. Discussions provoked by responding to these questions might lead to an increased understanding of the sensitivities and responses needed for engaging with fathers.

Today, we thought that two questions from that checklist might help listeners focus attention on key factors in successful father engagement for practitioners. One was understanding the context and variation in men's emotional expression, and the second is knowledge about the effect of fathers on children's lives.

So we're going to invite you to consider these two questions by participating in an online poll. Participation in the poll is anonymous and entirely voluntary, and you will click and option on your screen to participate in that poll. So Ken, the first question please. So the first statement is, when fathers do not show their feelings in the sessions it means that they are not interested. So you have three response options, one, you are reasonably confident that this statement is not true; two, you are unsure; or three, you're reasonably confident that this statement is correct.

You can vote right now and you click the option on your screen and we'll wait a few seconds, about 15, for people to participate. Please remember that it's anonymous and voluntary. We'll show you the results shortly, trusting in our technology.

Great. So among today's listeners, we have, most who think that this statement is not correct. Right. Return to my slides thanks Ken. In our study we found that most practitioners believed this was the case. That is most practitioners believe that men's inexpression means that their not interested in the sessions but today our poll was different. Most people think that men's inexpression may not necessarily mean disengagement. One reason for this difference might be time. It's six years since research and over that time, as Richard has described, there's been a growing awareness of men's emotional strengths, not just their difficulties.

So why is this a useful question for the task of father engagement in family work? As a start, such a question can prompt us to look at the characteristics and range of men's emotional expression and consider the context of mediation or counselling. It might be helpful to avoid essentialising differences among men and women, and view emotional expression on a continuum. For example, means of emotions and emotional expression will vary across culture and families. These include rules regarding what one should and should not feel or express and in what settings this is appropriate. Beliefs about which emotions can and cannot be successfully controlled also includes ideologies about emotions such as parental love or mother love, and shared understandings of how emotional experiences typically occur. So our beliefs about emotions will vary considerably. Emotional expression is really open to subjective interpretation.

Another aspect to consider here is the meaning of inexpression. Impassivity may represent fear rather than disinterest. Research suggests that a person's stillness or apparent calm may be part of their attempt to hold down strong rising emotions, and context makes a difference to discussion and disclosure. Father's may need to experience a level of trust or connection to people in the room. Here, experienced others and mentors may be helpful. Not expressing emotions may be adaptive when a practitioner accounts an apparently aloof or reserved father. Rather than disinterested, he may be working internally very hard to understand or modify the problem and attempting to maintain personal equilibrium.

Now let's move to our second question please, Ken. The second statement is: the father/child relationship is very important for the child's development. Again, the three response options are: one, you are reasonably confident that this is not correct; two, you're unsure; or three, you're reasonably confident that this statement is correct. You can vote now and we'll wait a little bit for the results. Okay. We have most listeners today who think that this statement is correct. Back to my Powerpoint, Ken.

In our study most practitioners believed this was not the case, that the father/child relationship is not very important for the child's development. Our poll today is different. Most people think that men's relationship with the child is important to the child's development. Now one reason for the difference might be that you've just heard Richard discuss the importance of fathers to children and families. More seriously though, as Richard described, research on fathers and children has increased exponentially in the last decade.

So why is this a useful question for refining father engagement practice in family work? First, the question can prompt us to explore just how fathers effect children positively and negatively. We know now that children's attachment bonds are not singular or exclusive to mothers, and, as you heard, fathers can be involved in different ways with different outcomes for children. Second, if we understand fathers impact on children, then practitioners can encourage fathers to participate in family life and find windows of opportunity for engagement. For example, in the perinatal period there are ultrasounds, antenatal appointments and classes, or for Indigenous fathers, the school environment is a fruitful gateway.

Notably, practitioners can use men's desire to be a good father to encourage them into programs that will benefit their child. For example, shaken baby prevention programs, co-parenting and partnership programs, or motivational changes for DV. And when family-inclusive practice is functioning, mothers can be a vital conduit for father involvement in family services. We hope that these two questions help clarify some of the thorny issues around father engagement and importantly inspire you to more questioning and debate. The questions and the relative research will be available after the webinar. Over to you, Richard.


Thank you Jennifer. It's a very big change isn't it, from when we did that study? Let me go back to the report on what works from the evidence review. One of the features that stood out from the evidence that's available was that it makes sense to intervene early in men's transition to fatherhood rather than wait, as I've mentioned. Parenting – and co-parenting rather – was an important aspect, which I'll talk about some more. The third area was the current disconnect between men's behaviour change programs, which are the standard program trying to address violence in families where fathers are perpetrators, and the fathering programs, which address fathers from the perspective of wanting to be a better father usually. The idea is that these two streams need to cross-fertilise so that we can have both issues addressed, rather than have them as separate.

The fourth point was the importance of linking programs that are happening with increases in staff's awareness, understanding, competence and community awareness. These three things do of course occur not in a lockstep way. We understand that, but if you're going to be successful in improving father inclusion, in including fathers more effectively for the support of their families and themselves, then you need to be really looking at those three areas.

Co-parenting in the US literature particularly has a very strong association with separated families, like the image on the left. However, that's a particular literature that doesn't cover the idea of co-parenting because the notion of co-parenting in general looks at the way the parents support each other. So in the US too, they've had an extensive marriage enrichment approach to try to improve family wellbeing through concentrating on the relationship – the romantic relationship between the mother and the father. That by and large hasn't been very successful and one reason we'd say that hasn't been successful is because it's missing the point. It's not just whether you two get on well. It's whether you get on well in the area of parenting, whether you undermine or support each other, whether you are able to encourage each other to be the best parent.

And that in microcosm, you can see in this slide, which is from a research program, Triatic research program from Switzerland, where what you can see on the screen are the images that are captured but the cameras in the room and the baby's image is turned around. The camera filming the baby is you can see on the wall behind the parents, and so the baby is actually facing the parents but they've turned the image around so we can see what's happening. In these studies they use a fairly simple procedure: asking the parents, as in frame 1, for one of the parents to play with the baby first; then in frame 2 for them to swap over and the other parent play with the baby; frame 3 for both of them to do it together; and four, to have a conversation and basically pay little attention to the baby. If you can imagine how the varieties of that might play out.

So for example, in frame 1 where the mother leans forward to play with the baby in a co-parenting model, which is successful, which is positive, then the father is looking with affection with support at what is happening, instead of for example he might look bored, look away, look at his watch, or alternatively try to intervene and compete with the mother for the baby's attention. The handover, how that happens, how one parent sits back or makes space for the other parent to have a relationship, that's featured in the second frame. And in the third frame how do they manage together to have a relationship with an infant one at a time. And the fourth, what does the baby do when they react like that. That sort of study has identified even before birth, before they have the baby, and in that case they use a doll with buttons for eyes and ask the parents to be to go through these steps. That research has identified how in microcosm that relationship, the way they support each other, or undermine each other, or compete with each other has an effect on the infant's development.

So this area of co-parenting is a key area for fathers but of course it doesn't imply that you just talk to the father or run a program for the father. The parenting relationship is the issue and in the US - I mean the Triatic research that I was just referring to is from Sweden – Switzerland, I beg your pardon. In the US, there's a number of studies now emerging using a fairly brief eight-week couple intervention. But the program doesn't focus just on how they get on with each other. It's focussed on their parenting relationship, and in a number of studies based on 169 couples over now and an extensive period, they found that at a randomised controlled trial, the ones – the couples who did the intervention who were in the eight week program, focussing on their parenting relationship – their co-parenting, those couples and this was an ante natal program of eight weeks, those couples experienced reduced adverse birth outcomes, reduced psychological aggression from the father. That's a key point I'll come back to.

But in the most recent follow up of, those children, those parents who five years ago were in an antenatal program of eight weeks – the children of those parents have better behaviour outcomes and better school adjustment outcomes than the children in the other arm of the randomised trial whose parents did not have the parent/co-parenting program. So that sort of evidence is impressive I think and suggesting that this area of what the parents do together to support each other is an important feature of how we might think of fathers, rather than simply thinking of fathers as the ones that we are running a program for.

I'll just point out from the study – the middle study that I just talked about, which took measure of the aggression before they started the program and then a measure afterwards in the randomised trial – as you can see from this graph the program was most effective. The difference between the two, the black and the grey bar, is most dramatic of those families where there was severe partner physical aggression and the partner in this case is the father. So in an era where we're very concerned about domestic violence, co-parenting seems to us to be an important avenue that isn't being explored very well in Australia.

So in summary that part, father-inclusive practice, if we're refining it, we'd say yes you have to include the father, but it should support the parenting relationship, not just support the father. The second aspect I want to talk about is about the idea of keeping dads in mind, as this image shows. Here I'm thinking not so much of course of animals in the wild keeping dads in mind, but organisations. One aspect of keeping fathers in mind is to recognise that fathers are not mothers, so one aspect is not to – the idea of “I treat everybody the same therefore I'm including father”. We wouldn't say that's a productive approach. We would also point out that keeping fathers in mind means even if you think they haven't been very good at it, as far as the children are concerned, the father will remain important to the child. Even in cases where there's been violence or abuse. So the idea that if there's been some behaviour that we find reprehensible, that that's the end of the father – well in the child's psyche, we'd say it's important to recognise that's not the case. Not necessarily that the father has to be brought back in to the family in exactly the same way as they were before. But to say that it's not important, I think is an error.

The Western Australian policy paper that I referred to earlier, showed you the image of the cover, has this important point about parenting, which is an inclusive term; therefore, you would say it implies both mothers and fathers. However, the use of the term is very clearly associated with services, programs and approaches that focus on mothers. Fathers are not only less responsive to the programs, but we'd say the programs are not clear in the way that they want to engage fathers if they call themselves simply a parenting program.

I want to just give you an example of where that doesn't happen, so fathers aren't being kept in mind. This is the home interaction program for parents and youngsters. A Melbourne based program, based at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which involves parents support – it's free, it involves home-based work, it's an enrichment program, it's being going many years now or since 2009, and this year expects to operate in 50 locations with 3,000 families. It's a very successful program, but in their reports I noted that although 72 per cent were couple families, 98 per cent of the participants were female. So the participants – that is the mothers – were the ones who demonstrated increased confidence, increased parenting skills, understanding of school requirements and improvements in their mental health. And that in itself is a good result of course and the results for children are also positive.

What I'm saying now is not to meant to imply criticism of the program. What I'm pointing to in this program is the absence of keeping fathers in mind. Because in the reports that document the success of this program and reports that ask how could we recruit better, how could we keep more families in HIPPY, in that program. When you go through that report you'll know, even though there's a picture of a dad there on the cover, that in these reports there is absolutely no discussion of fathers. So the fathers are not talked about in terms of how they helped, whether hey hindered the process, whether they benefited, whether they might be engaged. So a report like this one, which is a very extensive report, taking a lot of care to document how families are recruited – that is in this case, how mothers are recruited and how they're re-trained. There is not a mention of fathers.

Keeping fathers in mind is not of course to argue that this program and others like it should endeavour to have 50/50 and every mum who comes in the door or every mum who's engaged in the program there has to be a dad. That's not what we mean by keeping fathers in mind. What we mean is that thinking about fathers and noting, for example in this program, why don't we know what happened with the fathers, and why aren't we then in a position to say that if we do want to get more fathers in, we have this evidence to go on.

So we understand that keeping fathers in mind doesn't mean the physical presence of a father in every interaction. If you're thinking about families where there might have been abuse or violence, that obviously isn't the simple solution to improving father inclusion. We would say there isn't a simple solution probably, but we would say that the most simple step forward is to start thinking about, well where are the fathers and what are we doing to engage them in a way that supports the family rather than ignore them.

I'll just tell you about two projects that we have at the moment that try and apply this logic. In the first case, and they're both around new fathers. So with funding from Movember and Beyond Blue, the University of Newcastle is undertaking an SMS for dads project. The idea of that is to recognise that while mothers have a number of points of contact with health services – from booking in visits, and antenatal visits through to home visits and seeing their GP – that fathers have very few places where they have to have contact. In order to keep them in mind and in order to keep the health services and the support that's available in the fathers minds, we are suggesting that perhaps SMS is a good way, since all fathers or near enough to all fathers, have mobile phones.

So this project seeks to enrol fathers in a mobile phone-based project where we send them SMS messages and we check on their mood. Because we know that fathers mood is important for the child's development. The texts cover father/infant care and looking after the mother, co-parenting and the father looking after himself. The idea is that the text arrives, they're free of course if you are in this project, they're free and they arrive without you having to do anything, and all you've got to do is either read them or delete them. They're low intrusion value I suppose. We also want to check up on how the dads are going. So this image captures the idea that whether he's at work where he may get support, but often may not, that the father, the idea of the SMS for dads mood tracker is that the SMS messages ask him how he's going. And if he says that he's not going well then he's called – he's telephoned to try and pick up early those dads who might be in distress leading up to the birth or following the birth.

A separate project, which is a project funded by the University of Newcastle in the Young and Well Research Cooperative is a project under the name of Staying on Track. As you can see from the photo, it involves young Aboriginal dads. These dads are part of a larger group who are building a website. These men in the photo are not designing the electronics of it, the software, an expert is doing that, but these men are designing the website for young Aboriginal dads. They are using their own stories of being a dad, how they learnt about being a dad, how they experienced the birth and subsequently. That's the basis of the website. In that project, they are also going to be involved in our mood tracker to test how such an idea, that is, getting messages on your phone and asking you to say how you are on a scale and then be contacted if things aren't going well – they're also testing that.

So those two projects we would say are examples of keeping fathers in mind without trying to necessarily have the father physically present with the mother when you're running some sort of program or running an initiative.

These are resources and I imagine you can screenshot them or wait until you get the copy from AIFS or ARACY and you'll be able to follow these things up by going to those resources. Most of which are free.

On behalf of Jennifer and myself I'd like to thank you for logging on and for participating in the questions and we wish you well in your own endeavours to include fathers. Thank you very much.



The transcript is provided for information purposes only and is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the transcript undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. Before using the material contained in the transcript, the permission of the relevant presenter should be obtained.

The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

Slide outline

  1. Refining the task of father-inclusive practice
    • Dr Richard Fletcher and Dr Jennifer StGeorge
    • Fathers and Families Research Program Family Action Centre, The University of Newcastle
    • Please note: The views expressed in this presentation are those of the presenters, and may not reflect those of the Australian Institute of Family Studies or the Australian Government
  2. Father-inclusive practice forum flyer
  3. Refining Father-Inclusive Practice
    • 2005 a national gathering to highlight FIP and identify successful elements
      • Staff competencies
      • Procedures and policies
      • Organizational changes
  4. Principles of Father-Inclusive Practice
    • Father Awareness
    • Respecting Fathers
    • Address Equity and Access Of Fathers
    • Build on Fathers' Strengths 
    • Advocate for Inclusion of Fathers
    • Develop Practitioners' Strengths
    • Partnerships with Fathers
    • Recruitment and Training
    • Research and Evaluation
  5. 2009
    • Victoria: Fathers Matter
    • Australian Government: Father-inclusive practice guide
  6. 2010
    • South Australia: Engaging Fathers
    • Western Australia: Father Inclusive Practice
  7. Australian Government 2014
    • Engaging fathers: Evidence review
  8. Legal changes
    • Family Law reforms 2006
    • Paternity Leave 2013
  9. NGOs changing
    • Raising Children Network
    • Berry Street
    • Karitane
    • Australian Association of Infant Mental Health Conference “And father makes three: family-inclusive practice”
  10. Academia
    • Postgrad courses online
      • Working with Men & Boys
      • Father-Infant Attachment
      • Vulnerable Fathers
    • PhDs, Masters
    • Movember Beyondblue
    • Paternal Perinatal Depression Initiative
  11. Evidence – fathers matter
    • Fathers’ negative impact on infant and child development
    • Fathers’ positive impact on infant and child development
    • Biological basis of father-mother differences
  12. Evidence – fathers matter
    • Fathers’ negative impact on infant and child development
      • Violence BUT ALSO fathers’ mental health
    • Fathers’ positive impact on infant and child development
      • Support for mother BUT ALSO father-child interaction
    • Biological basis of father-mother differences
      • Testosterone BUT ALSO oxytocin
  13. Attachment: Father-infant attachment
  14. Engaging Fathers Evidence Review
  15. Facilitating father-inclusive practice
    • Staff skills and competencies
    • Service-level features
    • Community values
    • Policy framework
  16. The KAFC
    • Knowledge about Fathers Checklist
      • 300 practitioners as experts in client engagement
      • 30 questions based on prior research
  17. “When fathers do not show their feelings in the sessions, it means that they are not interested”
    • Diagram: Shows that most of those surveyed believe this statement is true
  18. Why is this a useful question for father engagement?
    • “When fathers do not show their feelings in the sessions, it means that they are not interested”
      • Meanings of emotions & emotional expression
      • Characteristics of expression
      • Meanings of inexpression
      • Context
      • Adaptive
      • Alternative ways of approaching significant issues
  19. “The father-child relationship is very important for the child’s development”
    • Diagram: Shows that most of those surveyed believe the relationship is not important
  20. Why might this knowledge be successful in engaging fathers?
    • “The father-child relationship is very important for the child’s development”
      • New knowledge: father-child attachment
      • Complementary parenting
      • Differential parenting
      • Windows of opportunity
      • Connection through the mother
  21. What works? From the Engaging Fathers Evidence Review
    1. Intervene early in men’s transition to fatherhood
    2. Target coparenting
    3. Draw from men’s behaviour change programs and fathering programs to address fathers’ violence
    4. Link programs, staff development and community awareness
  22. Coparenting: Focus on the mother-father parenting relationship
  23. Model of coparenting
  24. Coparenting
    • Focus on the mother-father parenting relationship
    • Brief couple intervention (up to 8 weeks)
      • Reduced adverse birth outcomes (2015)
      • Reduced psychological aggression from fathers (2014)
      • Improved child behaviour and school adjustment (2014)
  25. Greater effects on higher risk families
    • Diagram: Severity of preprogram partner physical aggression
      • Psychological partner aggression frequency
        • None: Control 11%, Treatment 18%
        • Minor: Control 28%, Treatment 29%
        • Severe: Control 52%, Treatment 31%
  26. Father Inclusive Practice
    • Includes the father BUT
    • Supports the parenting relationship (coparenting) between the mother and father
  27. Keeping Dads in Mind
  28. Keeping father in mind: Fathers are not mothers
  29. Keeping fathers in mind: Fathers remain important to children even in cases of violence or abuse
  30. WA policy paper
    • Within this paper the term ‘fathering’ is differentiated from the generic term ‘parenting’. Despite ‘parenting’ being an inclusive term which relates to mothers and fathers, it has been identified that in service delivery the term tends to be associated with mothers. Fathers have been shown to be less responsive to programs which use the term ‘parent’ rather than explicit terms such as ‘mums and dads’.
  31. Case Study - The Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY)
  32. HIPPY
    • Free, home-based parenting and early childhood enrichment program
    • Commenced in Australia in 2009
    • 2015 operating in 50 locations
    • 3000 families with Federal Government support of over $100 million
  33. HIPPY
    • Families
      • 72% were couple families
    • Participants
      • 98% were female
    • Results
      • Increased confidence
      • Parenting skills
      • Understanding school requirements
      • Mental health
  34. And fathers?
    • Recruiting and retaining families in HIPPY
  35. Keeping fathers in mind
    • Fathers do not have to be physically involved in every professional-parent interaction
    • Measuring, noting, documenting fathers’ involvement is key
    • Effective support for the parenting relationship may happen indirectly
  36. SMS4dads
    • Info on the go for new dads. Free texts from professionals before and after birth.
  37. SMS4dads
    • Texts
      • Father-infant care
      • Father-mother care (coparenting)
      • Father self-care
  38. SMS4dads
  39. Stayin on Track
  40. Aboriginal Fathers Stayin' on track on mobile phone
  41. Further resources
    • Fatherhood Research Bulletin - [email protected] 
    • Raising Children Network -
    • Father inclusive practice guide -
    • Engaging Fathers: Evidence review -
    • The Dad Factor: How father-baby bonding helps a child for life -
    • SA Engaging Fathers Project -
    • Master of Family Studies specialisation in Working with Men and Fathers -
    • Contact: [email protected] [email protected]


Dr Richard Fletcher is a senior lecturer in the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle. He has been conducting programs and research with boys, fathers and families for over 20 years and is the convenor of the Australian Fatherhood Research Network.

His current research includes: Fathers' role in families with PND; Young parents’ strengths; Father-infant attachment; Aboriginal fathering; Fathers of children with Autism; Using the web for parent support; and, Supporting separated parents of young children.

Dr Jennifer St George is a senior lecturer in Family Studies at the University of Newcastle.

Jennifer’s work in family research explores several related areas, including father engagement in human services, fathers’ role in child development, and parenting processes. She has a particular interest in using qualitative methodologies to explore personal and developmental aspects of family life.