2013 ‐ The changing shape of fathering programs across Australia

17-Dec-2013

In 2013, as part of Australian Men's Health Forum Conference (AMHF), the Men and Vulnerable Families Sector Development Group conducted a survey of fathering programs that operated across Australia. Snowball sampling was used to ensure the widest network for obtaining feedback regarding any relevant programs. These results only focused on programs provided for men and family relationship (fathering) issues. Men’s health programs or behaviour change programs were not included.

In 2006, forty‐four organisations across Australia were funded by the Australian Commonwealth Government Family Relationship Services Program to provide services that assisted men in family relationships in 80 locations across Australia. In 2013 thirty‐nine organisations provided fathering programs across 65 locations. The survey results indicated that there had been a shift from these programs being funded by the Australian Government to being provided by non‐funded programs (fee‐for‐service companies). In the past eight years, when the non‐funded programs are removed from the list, there has been a thirty three percent decrease in fathering programs being provided across Australia.

A significant reason for this change at the Federal Government level has been the shift to funding programs for vulnerable communities. While this is an important direction, organisations most often interpret this as the primary provision of programs that focus on working with the women and children. Unless organisations had previously identified the importance of involving men in family based programs, it is easier to maintain outcome statistics by shifting the focus to working primarily with mothers and children. The problematic aspect of this decision is that it continues to place all the responsibility for successful parenting on women.

The programs surveyed used a range of service design to be most relevant to the needs of vulnerable communities. This includes the provision of:

  • Antenatal workshops that target mothers and fathers,

  • Programs accessed by new fathers,

  • Afternoon/evening programs for fathers and their children held in primary schools that involve activities and a shared meal,

  • Emotional support groups for separated fathers,

  • Psychoeducational groups such as general fathering, fathering after separation,

  • relationship skills or anger management,

  • Specialised programs for Aboriginal and culturally and linguistically diverse men

  • Range of one‐off workshops,

  • Development of information booklets,

  • Counselling and emotional support groups – where men explore a range of

  • experiences,

  • Individual counselling services provided outside of normal working hours,

  • Home visiting programs,

  • Mentor development programs and parent coaching, rites of passage programs for fathers and their teenagers/children,

  • Camp/adventure programs for fathers or for men and their children,

  • Programs accessed through the workplace (limited),

  • The peak national forum promoting a social approach to male health and wellbeing

  • Telephone group counselling sessions,

  • Telephone counselling and support programs for individuals.

It is essential for programs to engage men as part of the solutions rather than supporting the idea that they are invisible or the main problem in vulnerable communities. The organisations that developed father inclusive programs in the last decade and still provided specific fathering

programs usually demonstrated the following characteristics:

  • Used local determination regarding the manner in which services are delivered.

  • Included men in all aspects of service delivery (as well as seeking their advice in needs analysis.

  • Used flexible, solution focused or information giving services.

  • Organised effective local coordination to support more integrated service delivery (i.e. development of a local Blokes Book).

  • Employed staff who are passionate about working with fathers.

  • Encouraged all their staff to engage male clients rather than a sole male worker.

  • Reported on fathering programs in their strategic plan or annual report.

  • Used a blend of male specific and joint partner engagement approaches.

  • Encouraged staff training in working with men.

It is essential for funding bodies to require organisations to report on how they are targeting men in vulnerable communities as part of a positive solution rather than directing all service delivery onto the lives of women alone. This approach ultimately delivers better outcomes for children, women and men.

For a copy of the overview of the fathering programs operating across Australia, click  2013 Australian Fathering Programs Overview

Yours sincerely

Andrew King
Men and Vulnerable Families Sector Development Group
Australasian Men’s Health Forum Inc
15th October 2013


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