Research into practice

A successful family support strategy will need to ensure that a
range of services is available to meet the differing needs of
parents and children at different stages in their lives. However,
seemingly appropriate services can fail if they are not presented
in an accessible and acceptable way.

A key aspect of a successful family support service is the way that
it is managed and organised. For instance, where the expert’s
knowledge is seen as imposed and the provider does not listen to
the client the programme is more likely to fail.

Recent research suggests that the degree to which programmers
engage with parents may be the most critical factor in determining
successful outcomes.1 Barriers to
involvement with services need to be addressed, such as
stigmatisation, listening to parents and children, timing,
transport and parents other problems beyond parenting. Evidence
also suggests that programmes designed to support parents do not
reach people, particularly fathers, from all backgrounds and ethnic

Some of the barriers in delivering services to fathers have been

Parenting groups are often run by women and can be seen as
female-oriented. Men respond more positively to groups led by men
and there are few male counsellors and leaders.

Groups and activities are often held during working hours.

Research and services are concentrated on mothers’ needs.
Fathers’ coping strategies will not necessarily be the same as
their partners’.

Many men have more difficulty in asking for help with health and
other problems than women do.

Traditional stereotypes of feckless and irresponsible fathers
negatively affect professionals’

Family centres are often seen as “feminised environments” from
which men are alienated and excluded. The relative absence of other
male users can deter fathers from using

In his book What Works with Fathers? Trefor
Lloyd4 reviewed previous literature and
some successful fathers’ projects, including Pen Green Family
Centre in Corby, the YMCA Dads and Lads initiative and the Mancroft
Advice Project’s initiative for young fathers in Norwich. Some
common themes in engaging fathers can be drawn out:

Have clarity of purpose about which fathers you are trying to reach
and why. A strategy and commitment to involving men is

Engender positive staff attitudes to fathers and provide some male
workers if possible.

Proactively contact and engage men, bearing in mind that
recruitment is often difficult and that traditional promotional
routes used by many agencies, for example leaflets to GPs’
surgeries, are less likely to reach fathers.

Provide practical or sports-based activities and in settings where
men feel comfortable.

A men’s group alone is unlikely to be a successful way to recruit
large numbers of fathers, but rather can be seen as an additional
activity for already engaged men.

In essence, family support services need a commitment to positively
encourage fathers, so that a critical mass of male users can be
obtained, making men more comfortable and willing to use services

Fiona Richardson is a senior consultant at the Institute of Public
Care at Oxford Brookes University

1 J Barnes and A
Freude-Lagevardi, From Pregnancy to Early Childhood: Early
Interventions to Enhance the Mental Health of Children and
Families, The Mental Health Foundation, 2002

2 A Richardson, An
Audit of Work with Fathers throughout the North East of England,
Working with Men, 1998

3 D Ghate, C Shaw
& N Hazel, Fathers and Family Centres: Engaging Fathers in
Preventative Services, Policy Research Bureau, 2000

4 T Lloyd, What Works with Fathers?,
Working With Men, 2001

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