Friday, January 18, 2019: 5:15 PM-6:45 PM
Continental Parlor 7, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
Cluster: Gender (G)
Tova Walsh, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Recognizing the important role that fathers play in their children's lives and development, child and family service providers are increasingly committed to engaging fathers as well as mothers. Fathers have been described in the literature as ghosts (Brown et al., 2009) because they are so frequently unseen by child and family service providers, and full involvement of fathers presents a critical challenge for the field. This symposium explores barriers and facilitators to engaging fathers in services. The five papers included in the symposium collectively address multiple types (e.g., personal, societal, practical) of barriers and facilitators across diverse service systems. Qualitative and quantitative methods are used to bring forth the perspectives of fathers themselves, mothers, and service providers. The first three papers present the experiences and perspectives of fathers. The first paper uses nationally representative survey data to examine the impact of fathers' experiences in prenatal care on subsequent participation in pediatric healthcare. A positive experience attending a prenatal ultrasound was predictive of later attending pediatric visits, suggesting that prenatal care providers' encouragement of fathers' participation and support for fathers may facilitate fathers' continued participation in children's healthcare. The second paper explores nonresident fathers' perspectives on engagement with social service providers. In focus groups and interviews, fathers identified multiple bureaucratic barriers to engagement and identified the presence of male staff members, fairness in child custody matters, and positive interactions with staff as facilitators of positive engagement. These themes are echoed in the third paper, which reports barriers (e.g., overly burdensome payments, negative interaction with service providers) and facilitators (e.g., “right sized” child support orders, staff skilled at engaging reluctant clients) to engagement with the child support system, identified by noncustodial parents and program staff connected to the Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration.
The fourth and fifth papers highlight the experiences and perspectives of mothers and service providers related to engaging fathers in services. The fourth paper presents results of a randomized controlled trial that demonstrate that low-income, unmarried Black mothers were able to successfully persuade their young child's nonresident father to participate with them in a co-parenting intervention. This success has implications for work with a historically underserved population of parents. The fifth paper describes home visitors' approaches to assessing and engaging fathers, comparing home visitors who received training on how to fully incorporate fathers into services to home visitors that did not. Results demonstrate the impact of the Dads Matter training, the persistence of barriers to father engagement, and the need for greater support for home visitors to more fully involve fathers.
The five papers in this symposium contribute actionable information regarding barriers and facilitators to engaging fathers in services. To effectively engage fathers in traditionally mother-focused services, and moreover to effectively engage diverse fathers, requires changing practice to ensure that all fathers feel welcome and not marginalized. This symposium will introduce innovative, cross-cutting strategies for engaging diverse fathers across service systems, to improve the wellbeing of fathers and families.
* noted as presenting author