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In 2001, the National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) published the first-of-its-kind Basic Fatherhood Training Curriculum. Within a few years, family-serving systems appeared to embrace father involvement. National fatherhood organizations and initiatives flourished. NFPN received a large grant, partnering with two child welfare agencies in a successful research study of father involvement.
But in this decade national fatherhood organizations have shrunk, there are very few initiatives, and funding has dried up. The momentum on father involvement has stalled. What could have caused that? Is it possible that more support is needed from . . . females?
Let’s take a closer look at father involvement from a female perspective.
What Mothers Say
The National Fatherhood Initiative conducted a nationwide survey in 2009 on mothers. The following chart shows mothers’ responses and, where available, the responses from fathers in a similar survey:
Mama Says Survey (2009)
|Mothers Agree||Fathers Agree|
|Fathers generally get a lot of respect for being fathers.||76%||92%|
|The media tend to portray fathers in a negative light.||55%||65%|
|When men first become fathers, they usually feel adequately prepared for fatherhood.||32%||54%|
|Mothers and fathers usually parent in about the same way.||16%||Not available|
|I am a positive influence on the ability of the father of my child to be a good dad.||86%||Not available|
The last item is especially noteworthy: mothers are confident that they exert positive influence on the ability of fathers to be good dads.
You can find the entire survey here:
Attitudes and Beliefs of Social Workers
Let’s look next at the attitudes and beliefs of those who work with fathers in the child welfare system.
In the two child welfare agencies participating in NFPN’s research study on father involvement, over 75% of the social workers were women. A pre/post survey found significant differences after social workers received training and coaching on father involvement. Social workers were:
- More likely to think the father should be involved even if the mother was not favorable to his involvement.
- More likely to believe fathers should have the same visitation rights as mothers.
- Less likely to link visitation rights with father’s payment of child support.
- More likely to equally consider both biological parents and their extended families as placement resources.
- More likely to view mothers as helpful in locating biological fathers.
Women make up a large majority of the workforce that serves families. Thus the female worker’s perspective can be just as critical as the mother’s in determining the extent to which the worker will help the father to be involved with his child.
In a more recent survey, NFPN asked Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) workers the extent to which they involved fathers in the intervention. IFPS workers spend a large amount of time with families, usually 40 hours or more over the course of the intervention. The workers knew the identity of the father 75% of the time. But only half the time workers
- knew where the father lived,
- established contact with him,
- involved the father in the case plan and services, and
- involved the father in connecting with the child.
What were the barriers for the other half of the time when there was little engagement of fathers? Three of the four top reasons involved decisions primarily by females:
- The mother refused to identify the father.
- The mother revealed the identity of the father but did not want him involved.
- The referring worker did not require the father’s involvement.
Mothers and female workers are often intentionally making a decision not to involve the father. So, what happens when the opposite takes place, that is, when mothers and workers intentionally make a decision to support the father’s involvement?
Partnering for Father Involvement
In an aptly named research study, Supporting Father Involvement: An Intervention for Low-Income Families, mostly Mexican-American and some Anglo married/cohabiting couples were randomly assigned to either a father’s group (minimal participation by mothers) or a couple’s group (full participation by mothers). Overall, the couples’ group had the best outcomes, including an increase in father involvement and reduction of stress between fathers and mothers.
Where is all of this leading? Perhaps to re-thinking father involvement. If female support is a necessary ingredient to father involvement, then we need to know more about the female perspective at every junction.
NFPN is seeking a partnering agency (preferably city, county, or state wide) to further explore the female perspective in father involvement. A funding source will need to be identified and we are also looking for media coverage. Please contact NFPN (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you consider your agency a potential partner.
Father Involvement Training
NFPN offers Basic and Advanced Fatherhood Training Curricula that have been used to train a largely female workforce on involving fathers. To get started, complete the pricing inquiry form at: