This post outlines some of our current thinking on what a father friendly city is and why it is worth building. We welcome your feedback and contributions.
We would say that a father friendly city is a place where the actions of institutions, organisations and communities combine to transform the quantity and quality of fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives.
The case for supporting fathers is overwhelming. Research shows that father involvement early in children’s lives predicts positive outcomes later in the child’s life (Flouri, 2004).
Following a meta-analysis of 24 studies, Sarkadi et al., (2008) concluded that father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in young women, enhances cognitive development and decreases criminality and economic disadvantage in areas of low socioeconomic status.
In terms of social mobility, children with involved fathers are more likely to escape poverty (Blanden 2006).
There is also overwhelming evidence that fathers want to be more involved in their children’s lives, with a recent report from Lancaster University showing that 82% of fathers want to spend more time with their families. And earlier UK survey (Peters et al, 2008) found that 70% of two-parent-family fathers and 81% of non-resident fathers wanted to be more involved in their children’s education.
The Coalition Government’s came to power with an aspiration to make the UK the most family friendly country in Europe and made a commitment in its Equality Strategy – “Building a Fairer Britain” –to encourage shared parenting from the earliest stage of pregnancy
Yet internationally, the UK is considered to be one of the least father friendly countries in the developed world. In 2010-2011 The Fatherhood Institute published the first family fairness index which found that conditions for equal parenting in the UK are the fourth worst out of 21 leading industrial nations.
In Sweden, for example, new fathers are eligible for up to 40 weeks’ full-time paid paternity leave. In the UK, the sum paid to new dads is equivalent of just two days at the average pay. And when parents separate, dads in Sweden are three times more likely to share childcare than dads in Britain where only 1 in 9 separated dads share parenting.
What all this evidence demonstrates is that not only are there huge benefits to reaped from involving dads in their children’s lives, there is also a huge need and demand to do this.
In the introduction to a new book out in 2012 called “Engaging Fathers in the Early Years”. editor Roger Olley MBE says that “despite the convincing research that demonstrates the importance of fathers in children’s lives, the field of father inclusion is a challenging one with services traditionally experiencing great difficulties in delivering services to men”.
This is certainly the case in Brighton & Hove where the majority of parents accessing parenting support service are mothers. And this isn’t a case of dads being unwilling to access services and activities for dad. We know from local experience that when services are targeted effectively at dads, they will get involved. For example:
- The monthly Dads’ Baby Boogie at Jubilee Library can attract as many as 100 dads
- Alistair Mayor’s SuperDads groups are increasing levels of father involvement in the schools where they are hosted
- The Men’s Network’s Dads Connect pilot engaged more than 200 dads and children in community events and activities on a budget of just £1,000 in 2011.
Yet despite the fact that dads will engage with appropriate, targeted services, many public sector services – such as work with young parents – retain a strong focus on working with mothers.
This problem is exacerbated by the severe shortage of projects for fathers in the community and voluntary sector where public sector revealed that women’s projects received around thirteen hundred time less funding than men’s projects.
A local health visitor recently told us that they meet both new mothers and new fathers experiencing stress and depression but while they have several services to refer mums to, they have no services to refer dads to.
All of which suggest there is much, much more we could do to help make Brighton & Hove, The Most Father Friendly City in The World.