New Fathers

FIRA's New Fathers Study Identifies Programming Gap for New Dads

A study by FIRA's New Fathers Research Cluster points to a gap in father-oriented parenting supports. Specifically, men in our New Fathers survey said that the period in which they felt the greatest lack of information was the first year of parenthood. However, relatively few Canadian programs for fathers target new fatherhood specifically. Educational programming for fathers has increased steadily and impressively in recent yeats, but resources tend to be concentrated in two main areas: pregnancy/birth and play/activity programs for fathers of toddlers, preschoolers and young school-aged children.

There is no doubt that these types of programs are valuable. Couple-oriented childbirth education was in fact, the first parenting program to draw in large numbers of men and it continues to be an area of very high participation by fathers. Similarly, many fathers are very comfortable in activity-based programs (as opposed to more didactic or discussion - oriented programs.), such as Daddy/Child drop-in playgroups.

However, the men surveyed in the New Fathers Study very clearly indicated a need for more information and support in the post partum period. The New Fathers Cluster conducted individual interviews with 21 new fathers and consulted with 44 others through focus groups in different parts of Canada. One question respondents were asked was whether or not they wished they had had more information or support at certain times in their new fatherhood journey: prenatal, at the birth and post natal. Given the challenges of impending and new parenthood, it's not surprising that many fathers indicated a need for information during all three periods. But almost all - 93 percent - said they wished they'd had more information and support in the post partum period compared to about 60 percent with respect to pregnancy and birth.

Ed Bader, co-leader of the New Fathers Cluster with Andrea Doucet, of Carleton University, says that these findings mesh with his professional experience. "When we launched Focus on Fathers in York Region, north of Toronto, we originally targeted fathers of children age 0 - 6 because that was in line with other mandates to support the early years of child development. But as we went along fathers began telling us they needed certain kinds of fathering information related to the prenatal and immediate post partum period, so we have added components dealing with earlier parenthood." Catholic Counselling Services of York Region, which operates Focus on Fathers, has now developed a new program called Preparing New Parents, which is offered both pre and post natally. Preparing New Parents has a version for couples and also one geared to fathers only. Bader believes that the prenatal period, when many fathers often attend educational programs with their partners, is the ideal time to reach fathers with information about new fatherhood. "We have found that after the birth many fathers are simply too busy to attend programs," says Bader.

However other data from the study confirms what some practitioners already know from experience: simply adding programs is only part of the picture. Organizations surveyed in the New Fathers often commented that they found it hard to attract fathers. And some fathers in the study said that they felt that programs and information available to them were not father-friendly. As one father said, while talking about information for parents around birth, "They should put the information in all three languages, English, French and male." His statement reflects the reality that many services for expectant and new parents, though they include fathers, are primarily oriented towards the needs of mothers. And most staff who create and deliver the programs are female. So it has been an ongoing challenge to understand the needs of male parents. Moreover, given the diversity of Canadian fathers' experiences, figuring out exactly what fathers want and what "male" language is not necessarily as straightforward as it sounds. "Male" language could be a number of things.

This suggests that community organizations wishing to become more father-friendly, should consult with fathers themselves via surveys or focus groups to assess their needs, and involve fathers in the creation of programs. The Peterborough Family Resource Centre (PFRC), in Peterborough, Ontario, has created a mechanism for getting input from fathers. In 2005, the PFRC recruited some men to serve on a Father Leadership Team. This groups meets with staff quarterly to give feedback about programming initiatives and to plan events and programs for fathers. Among other things, the Father Leadership Team has designed a flyer outlining local father-oriented services, runs an annual Dad and Child film morning at a local cinema, and has piloted a new 2 ½ workshop for fathers, designed and delivered by members of the father leadership team, with staff support. "We would never initiate any programs or supports for fathers without consulting with fathers themselves," says Mary-Ann Meagher, PFRC's Education Team Leader. "And, frankly, we still feel that we should be doing more for dads. However, in the steps we have taken, the father leadership team has been very helpful."

Various groups, at both the local and regional/provincial level, have been working to develop resources for new fathers in recent years. Here are two examples.

Canada's longest-running father-specific program, is The Dad Classes, developed by Dr. Neil Campbell in London, Ontario, a five week series, where three of the five sessions are devoted to new fatherhood issues. To read more about Neil Campbell and the Dad Classes, click here.

Several organizations, including the Father Involvement Initiative - Ontario Network (FII-ON) and the BC Council for Families, have developed print materials for new (and not-so-new) fathers. Click here for more information about Canadian father-oriented print materials which are available for order.

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