Skills to work with generativity

The engagement circle

Language has a significant influence on the successful engagement of men. If the language used by the professional worker is deficit based, it will increase the male service user’s level of suspicion and they are less likely to access the program. Some of the deficit based assumptions (King , 2000) view most men as:

When working with men, effective language involves three key components as illustrated in Figure 1. These three key components are contained in the organisational context and Occupational, Health and Safety policies and the specific context for service delivery. For example each organisation has policies about safe work practices when providing after hours counselling services.

The three key components for developing father-friendly language are:


At a father’s support service in Western Sydney, a large number of separated fathers regularly access the program. The use of direct and relevant language is important in creating a positive direction for managing family separation. The staff encourage men to refer to their ‘ex-partners’ as the ‘mother of their children’, rather than their ‘ex’. The word ‘ex’ conjures up images of someone who is ‘no longer important’ or is a ‘has-been’. This simple change of language is well received by the men as it reinforces a new and positive attitude towards family separation, their child/ren, their previous relationship and themselves.

Some strategies that increase engagement with men include:

Creating relevance with service users is clearly illustrated with a man named Terry who has been attending an intensive father’s group. In a recent group session, he gave feedback to the group on the positive effect the group has had on his life since he was released from a correctional centre. During his last time in gaol, someone recommended he join a father’s group to make a smooth transition back into his large family. Terry reflected on what the group meant to him and concluded that it ‘focussed on my kids, and me’ and this was vital in establishing relevance.

It is quite a challenge for any parent to move from such a highly controlled environment as a prison, to the chaos of living in a family with many children. The children had not seen their father for a significant part of their lives. Terry began his involvement with the father’s group four months prior to release and continued for over a year thereafter. He now credits the support from the group as the major factor in him staying with the family and not re-offending.

Being a faith builder demands perseverance and the belief that a father has the capacity to make appropriate choices. For example, Adrian has been a member of an intensive father’s group for over 18 months. When he commenced attending, Adrian was experiencing regular conflict at home with parent/teenager power issues. Adrian struggled to express himself in the group and would resist any encouragement to speak. After some weeks he began to be vocal about his own experience and supported men in dealing with their own issues. He was less reactive with his own teenage children and developed a stronger and more supportive relationship with his partner.

While being honest and direct with men is challenging, it creates a greater respect and a focus for change. For example, Graham is a father with two children and a partner. The Department of Community Services has informed him he has a limited time to make significant changes in his approach to parenting or run the risk of having the children taken into out-of-home care. The following is an example of how the group worker approaches this scenario:

Worker: ‘Graham, it is time to deal with these issues or your children will be removed. You cannot afford to continue down the path you have used over the last few months. We want to support you and we have to keep the welfare of the children as the priority. We need to work together on this. Does this make sense?’

The worker has focused the discussion on change and this provides Graham with choices:

11 - Overview of the generative perspective

Appropriate responses to men crying

The display of emotion by men is influenced by a wide range of cultural based messages. For some cultures, tears are an ordinary expression of strength and life. In Anglo-Saxon culture, crying may be tempered with feelings of inadequacy or failure. In times of distress men will apologise for crying and say something like:

When working with men it is best to value crying as normal and a strength. Workers may respond by saying;

Unhelpful things to say or do when men are crying are:

Principles for using generative exercises

These exercises are used either to strengthen the engagement process (Generative awareness exercises) or when sufficient engagement has already occurred (adequate level of relevance exists, the men have a deeper awareness of positive faith-building and communication can readily occur using honesty/ directness). These exercises also require these other principles to occur:

9 - Engaging and working with men with children aged 0-5 years


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