We asked the Fatherhood Institute in UK to distil their learning from 20 years of working with maternity and early childhood services. They gave us a 10-point action plan. This provides something of value to every maternal and infant health service in the world!
1. HAVE HIGH EXPECTATIONS OF FATHERS
Start from the understanding that expectant fathers want the best for their partner and unborn child, and are motivated to participate productively when you address them from that perspective.
2. ASK, DON’T ASSUME
Stereotypes of men and fathers, especially in ‘traditional’ families, are often negative and assume that all hold the same views. This is not the case, nor are views necessarily unchanging. Connect with each father as a human being, and explore his story and aspirations.
3. INVITE FATHERS PERSONALLY TO APPOINTMENTS
Whether oral or written, personal invitations should be extended to each father, highlighting his important role in his baby’s and partner’s health, and making clear how his participation will enable you to deliver the best service to his family.
4. REMOVE STRUCTURAL BARRIERS TO FATHERS’ ATTENDANCE
Find out how timing and location will facilitate attendance and if resources are needed extend these to the father as well as the mother.
5. PULL UP A CHAIR . . .
Make sure the father can sit comfortably as part of the conversation, use his name, look directly at him, and include him. Get to know him before you introduce challenging topics, such as HIV testing.
6. IF YOU SUSPECT OR WANT TO FIND OUT ABOUT NEGATIVE BEHAVIOUR
Don’t be afraid to suggest you have short conversations with each parent on their own, so they can raise issues or personal questions with you. If negative behaviour such as the use of violence is revealed, assess risk and consider this an indication that to work with the father as well as the mother is particularly important.
7. A WHOLE TEAM APPROACH
Make clear to your community, other services and your whole agency and team that engaging with fathers as a routine is your policy. Ensure your whole team understands why this is important to maternal and infant health, and are willing and able to engage with men in a positive manner. Training may be necessary, and engagement should be followed up in supervision and appraisal.
8. A FATHER-FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT
Normalise fathers’ participation by ensuring the environment and resources include images of fathers and words such as ‘dad’ ‘father’ ‘papa’ in appropriate languages. If the images are only of mothers and children, or of children alone, or if the text refers only to mothers or to ‘parents’, fathers will assume that their contribution is not welcome or useful.
9. COLLECT DATA
Every time you register a pregnancy, register a father and identify his relationship to his partner and child. Report on mothers’ and fathers’ engagement with your service by gender.
10. CREATE FATHER-INCLUSIVE LINKS WITH OTHER AGENCIES
Set up the expectation that every referral to your service is to include information about the biological father and any other key father-figures: if this is not provided, go back to the referring agency and request it.
© 2015 Fatherhood Institute www.fatherhoodinstitute.org
Photo: sandeepachetan.com travel photography. Creative Commons.