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Strengthening engagement with fathers Posted: Thursday 12 May 2016

In recognition of all the benefits that children can experience when fathers are fully involved in their lives, government and non-government agencies are working together to enhance the inclusion of fathers at all points of the family support and child protection continuum.

The Engaging Fathers initiative aims to better support fathers to build positive relationships and share equal responsibility for the safety and welfare of their children by strengthening practitioners’ confidence and skills to engage fathers and father figures in their work.

The initiative originally emerged from the experience and learning of frontline Child Safety staff across the state who recognised that, all too often, ‘family work’ meant working with mothers and children. Fathers were neither given the opportunity to contribute to (or conversely held responsible for) the wellbeing and protection of their children.

Since then, it has evolved into a key element in the Strengthening Families Protecting Children Framework for Practice, currently being embedded across the state.

It also complements and aligns with the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services’ (DCCSDS) focus on David Mandel’s Safe and Together approach for working with families affected by domestic and family violence. One of the guiding principles of this approach is that including and intervening with perpetrators (who are often fathers) can improve outcomes for children and families.

To date, more than 10 Engaging Fathers sector development events have been held across the state, with between 60 and 150 practitioners from both government and non-government agencies participating in each event.

Through keynote presentations, panel discussions and workshops, the events aim to:

  • raise awareness of the importance of including fathers (and father figures) when working with families
  • educate, challenge and inspire practitioners across the sector to improve their skills and confidence to engage with fathers.

The latest of the Engaging Fathers events was held in Mount Isa on 15 March and featured presentations from both local practitioners and expert speakers including Dr Richard Fletcher from University of Newcastle, Professor Elena Marchetti and Associate Professor Michael Flood from University of Wollongong, and Dr Silke Meyer from CQUniversity.

Alongside government staff, more than 90 staff members from partner agencies attended the event to learn about innovative strategies for enhancing fathers’ participation in their work with children and families.

Ms Nicola Jeffers, North Queensland Regional Director, DCCSDS, said the event offered many opportunities to strengthen practice in family engagement.

“The speakers were outstanding, and the learnings and perspectives they shared highlighted how we can enhance our practice in a number of ways.

“Attendance at the conference also showed a tremendous commitment from the community to open the discussion and start on the road to change in practice and how we engage with fathers.

“Our non-government partners were very enthusiastic about learnings to strengthen our practice, and we are keen to keep the momentum going,” she said.

Following the success of the Mount Isa conference, further sector-wide training events are scheduled to take place in Mackay during May and the Gold Coast in June 2016.

Building on the learnings from the Engaging Fathers conferences, DCCSDS is also undertaking other initiatives to further support fathers who come into contact with the child protection system. These include:

  • SMS4dads – DCCSDS’ North Coast and North Queensland regions are working with the developers of this innovative SMS service to encourage conversations with and enhance support for fathers before and after the birth of a child. The service provides new fathers with information, tips and links to other supports to help them prepare for and deal with some of the challenges often experienced by new dads.
  • Walking with Dads program – In line with the principles of the Safe and Together approach, this program supports women and children by including a focus on working with fathers who are perpetrators of domestic and family violence. It aims to help fathers identify the issues contributing to their behaviour, harness their motivation to change and, through integrated service approaches, link them with appropriate responses. The Caboolture Child Safety Service Centre has been delivering Walking with Dads since February 2015, and has reported that fathers who participated in the program are, typically, more prepared to engage in conversations and progress case plans, and showed a genuine motivation to break the cycle and to be better parents. The service centre is also currently working with No To Violence, a leading Victorian organisation specialising in responding to men who perpetrate family violence, with the view to further developing the program. 

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