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Involving Fathers . A Sure Start Approach Durham University Centre for Applied Social Research. Overview. What we did Findings Level of father/male carer involvement What worked Perceptions of benefits Fathers/male carers Mothers Future challenges. What We Did.

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involving fathers

Involving Fathers

A Sure Start Approach

Durham University

Centre for Applied Social Research

  • What we did
  • Findings
    • Level of father/male carer involvement
    • What worked
    • Perceptions of benefits
      • Fathers/male carers
      • Mothers
    • Future challenges
what we did
What We Did
  • Case study: Sure Start programme in the North East of England
  • Semi-structured telephone interviews

(fathers and mothers)

  • Focus groups (fathers)
  • Field notes
  • Semi-structured interviews with staff (x4)
  • Database analysis
  • 19 fathers
  • 8 mothers
what works an enabling context
What Works:An Enabling Context
  • Commitment to working with fathers at programme management level
  • Close partnership working with local expert voluntary agency
  • A gender differentiation approach
    • Dedicated worker
    • Father/male carer specific activities
getting men involved strategies
Dedicated Fathers Worker who is highly skilled

Key characteristics

Ability to relate well to fathers/male carers


Sense of humour



Hard working


Individualised approach

Getting Men Involved: Strategies
getting men involved strategies1
Getting Men Involved: Strategies
  • Assertive social marketing strategy: selling activities
    • “There’s got to be something in it for dads or they’re not going to do it - the programme has to ask ‘why would fathers choose to come in?’” (Fathers Worker)
  • Persistence
    • “The way the Dads worker does it is excellent - she’ll come up to you and say ‘this class will be very good for you - would you like to do it?’ and she’ll keep on telling you” (Father)
  • Nature of activities
    • Father/male carer specific
    • “Hook”
    • Diverse
    • Flexible
men only father perceptions
Men Only: Father Perceptions
  • The dads group is one of the best things that ever came out (Father)
  • I think it’s easier for the dads to talk amongst the dads than it is in a mixed environment (Father)
  • I mean it is crucial really that there’s a dads club – if there wasn’t a dads club solely – I’m sure there’s a lot of people wouldn’t go to a mixed club (Father)
keeping men involved strategies
Keeping Men Involved: Strategies
  • Group initiation
    • “She’ll always get new members involved - rather than you just being sat in the corner on your own” (Father)
  • Follow up contact
    • “She doesn’t let go - she’ll follow up and follow up and follow up” (Father)
  • User led
    • “We have an input in it - it’s not just ‘we’re going to do this’ and nobody turns up” (Father)
    • “What works more than anything is that they can have a say” (Mother)
  • Moving on from ‘hook’ activities
benefits father perceptions
Benefits for children (19)

Peer support (9)

Social contact (9)

Sense of achievement (7)

Supporting father’s role (6)

Increased knowledge and skills (6)

New experiences (5)

Opportunity for discussion (5)

Increased fitness and better health (5)

Getting a break (5)

Enhancing relationships with children (4)

Relaxation/stress relief (4)

Learning from other fathers (3)

Increased confidence (3)

Anger management (2)

Benefits: Father Perceptions
benefits for children
Benefits for Children

“it’s good for him to meet other children - it’s a good environment - it helps him learn about sharing- interacting with other children (Father)

I believe [Sure Start] gave him an excellent time before he even started nursery which helped him when he’s gone into primary school (Father)

dads groups peer support
Dads Groups: Peer Support

It’s just that bonding thing - you’ve always got people you can talk to if you are having difficulties at home or you need advice, you can always get it without being judged (Father)

I feel [men] tend to bottle things up - the lads who come to the Sure Start dads group - they’re a lot more open now (Father)

better relationships with children
Better Relationships with Children

The group gives the children time just to be with their dads - it’s a “time together thing” - they don’t ask if mum’s coming


You can get away with the bairn and that on your own …it gives you more chance to bond more with your son or your daughter - it’s surprising how it’s brought fathers and children together


mothers perceptions
Mothers’ Perceptions

Key Benefits

  • Social contact for fathers (6)
  • Supporting the father’s role (5)
  • Enhancing relationships with children (4)
  • Break for mothers (4)

Father/male specific activities

  • Mothers in favour (8)
supporting the father s role
Supporting the Father’s Role

Sure Start has given fathers a chance to do stuff – there’s still an old-fashioned view that women do everything (Mother)

When women are there, things tend to get more focused around the mothers - men seem to get pushed to the back – this makes sure that they’re not (Mother)

He gets to spend a bit more time with the boys on his own - sometimes mums interfere…mums do what they want to do (Mother)

enhancing relationships with children
Enhancing Relationships with Children

To be honest – he works long hours and doesn’t have much to do with the baby – after the [Sure Start] course he was more confident – wanted to do more stuff (Mother)

They enjoy going there - just having time on their own with their dad - just the three of them together (Mother)

all male activities
All Male Activities

The dads’ club is great - [dads] do it because other dads are doing it (Mother)

The fact that it is all men makes it easier for them to go – [my partner] won’t go to anything mixed with me - it’s a good idea for them to have their own stuff (Mother)

I think it’s important to have things just for dads(Mother)

future challenges a changing policy context
Future Challenges: A Changing Policy Context
  • Fears of marginalisation of fathers work BUT potential for development
  • “I’d be very disappointed if the Dads Group was ever stopped because it’s helped a lot of dads…to me, it would be devastating because dads would just go back to square one, sat in the house and don’t get out, that’s my opinion” (Father)
future potential
Future Potential

We’ve found with the dads group, it’s making [dads] better people - more interested - more interactive with their children which makes them better children - as they grow up they’ll pass it on and you’ve started the ball rolling - it’s going to get better and better… (Father)