Competencies (skills, knowledge and attitudes) for including fathers
Father-inclusive practice demands a mixture of competencies. The ability to work directly with fathers in one-to-one or group settings, for example, is fundamental; however, it is not clear that this involves one central skill or even a single, identifiable set of skills since the nature of the fathers involved and context for the engagement with fathers will vary.
In working with groups of fathers, while there may be some continuity in the skills required to facilitate ‘parenting-focused’ discussion-based groups with self-selected fathers from the community, there will be other settings where these skills do not apply. Groups of fathers of different ages, from different cultural backgrounds or from particular socioeconomic groups may require particular competencies. Fathers meeting in a neonatal intensive care unit, fathers who are offered group counselling or fathers of children with a disability may need facilitators with special knowledge and skills. As well, the gender of the facilitator and their roles will influence the competencies required. The skills of a male solo facilitator may be very different to that of a female co-facilitator.
Discussion with practitioners, trainers and managers from an array of services suggests that for father-inclusive practice to become established in an existing service additional competencies unrelated to direct engagement with fathers is necessary. For example, for family-related services the shift to engage with fathers is a departure from the normal practice of mothers accessing the service. Women will have an understandable expectation of being the main focus of the service and to see initiatives directed at fathers may be unsettling. Whether or not mothers welcome the new initiative (and experience and the limited research available suggest that the overwhelming majority of women support the inclusion of fathers) they may wonder at the apparent sudden enthusiasm for fathers. Advancing the work with fathers while not alienating or marginalizing mothers will be an important skill in many settings. At the same time, the recent emphasis on bringing children’s views into discussion relating to family dissolution has implications for services supporting intact families too. The ability to bring in the views of other family members to support the work with fathers may well be important to the success of father-focused activities.
Organisations have also recognised that the traditional neglect of fathers in family services has led, in many cases, to a lack of knowledge of the needs and preferences of fathers. In line with the well-accepted notion that families should be involved early in the design of services, fathers will need to be involved not just as recipients of services but as collaborators or consultants in their development. The skills needed to facilitate fathers’ involvement in service development are not necessarily those needed for direct service delivery. In the same vein, if fathers are to be involved in deliberations with the service then a single practitioner, however skilled and supportive of the fathers, will not be sufficient. Since the enthusiasm and commitment to including fathers is rarely spread evenly throughout an organization, those who are most keen to engender father-inclusive practice will need to be able to bring colleagues, managers and other staff on board. These abilities demand another set of skills altogether.
Finally, because we are envisaging organizational change in a climate of fiscal restraint and evidence-based practice the ability to document, evaluate and communicate the results of programmes and projects will also be required. The all too common scenario of an excellent initiative involving fathers being lost when the primary staff member moves jobs suggests one last area of competence. The enthusiastic, successful individual practitioner must be able to form and maintain networks of other involved or supportivestaff and perhaps provide mentoring to inexperienced staff while they gain expertise in this area.
Competencies for Working with Fathers
During the Forum process seven practice areas were selected to identify in detail the skills, knowledge and attitudes used by experienced practitioners to directly engage with fathers. For each of the seven practice areas listed see the introduction given below and the link to the list of competencies identified:
- Group work with fathers
- Recruiting fathers to early childhood health centres
- Talking to males about violence
- Engagement skills for working with antenatal dads
- Working with Indigenous fathers, uncles, pops, brothers
- Using play with fathers in a multicultural setting
- Raising staff awareness and acceptance of fathers