New Fathers – Emerging Research from the Father Involvement Research Alliance

In Research by Engagement

Source: Bader, E. & Doucet, A. (2006). New fathers cluster executive summary.  Father Involvement Community Research Forum, Spring 2006

This article summarises the work of the New Fathers Cluster of the Canadian-based Father Involvement Research Alliance (FIRA). This cluster focuses its research on the period from pregnancy through the first eighteen months of a child’s life. It is notable for its multi-sectoral and community-based approach to research, as well as for its findings through both quantitative and qualitative research on new fathers and those who work with them. Both the approach and findings of the New Fathers Cluster are discussed here.

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Background on FIRA and the New Fathers Cluster

The Father Involvement Research Alliance (FIRA) was formed as the outcome of national partnership-building among researchers, practitioners, policy makers and fathers. FIRA was conceived by a broad-based Canadian alliance of individuals, organisations and institutions dedicated to developing and sharing knowledge on father involvement.

It conducts its work through seven clusters focused on diverse groups of fathers, such as young fathers, immigrant fathers, and new fathers, among others.

The New Fathers Cluster focuses on the period from pregnancy through the first 18 months of a child’s life. Topics covered include support services provided to fathers during this time, including the pre-natal period, the impact of becoming a dad on the father’s physical and mental health and personal development, and the support afforded to fathers by the health and community care system.

Approach to Conducting Research and Shaping Practice

Like other clusters under FIRA, the New Fathers Cluster adopts an innovative model located at the nexus of fatherhood research and practice. The Cluster’s approach:

  • Is collaborative: To ensure that its work has an influence on and is relevant to community, practitioner, and academic understandings of the experiences of new fathers, the Cluster works through formal affiliations and informal partnerships with university researchers and community organisations. In addition, Cluster members cross-fertilise research with community work and academic writing on an ongoing basis. This approach has also strengthened community organisations and their work through their affiliation with the cluster, as well as overall partnerships within the fatherhood sector.
  • Is multi-sectoral: As a direct result of its collaborative approach, the Cluster’s work currently involves graduate students, family physicians, and community managers or experts in parenting programmes.
  • Is educational: The Cluster’s work does not end with the completion of a research project, but has also shaped policy reports, grant proposals to support community programmes, resource materials for parents and practitioners, conferences, as well as media coverage of Cluster members. All these activities ensure that the research is optimised to benefit and educate the wider community and public.
  • Adopts multiple levels of enquiry: The Cluster conducts its work through three phases, starting with (1) a national survey of community organisations to ascertain the levels of support and services offered to new fathers; followed by (2) focus groups with diverse groups of fathers to understand their perspectives on the appropriate and desired services for new fathers (pre-natal, during the birth, and post-natal); and concluding with (3) in-depth qualitative research focused on gathering narratives of fathering, particularly the social, personal, institutional, and family transitions that men make when they have a child.

Notable Findings from the Research

Key findings from the research conducted thus far are outlined as follows:

  • Community organisations see new fathers as the most important client group among fathers. The Cluster partnered Health Canada in the latter’s national project on Fathering in 2003. Of the 382 organisations surveyed, most indicated that they reach all fathers, but that the new father is the most important client group.
  • More father-focused programmes are only part of the solution: Most of the 166 Canadian organisations surveyed recognised the need for some degree of father-focused programming during the transition to parenthood. However, fathers often do not perceive these to be welcoming. Key factors that community organisations have identified in being successful in creating father-friendly approaches include the use of male facilitators, more resources for fathers, some programming for fathers only, and the scheduling of programmes to meet fathers’ working schedules.
  • Transitions to parenthood are gender-specific, challenging, and require support: Fathers highlighted the difficulties they face in transitioning into parenting; that the experiences of the pre-natal, birth and post-natal periods are different for mothers and fathers, with fathers viewing their role during the first two periods as primarily to support the mother; the high levels of stress in the first year due to individual and couple adjustments; and the need for more support in communicating these life changes with their partner and significant others.
  • Fathers feel the greatest lack of information is in the first year of parenthood. Educational programming for fathers in Canada has increased steadily in recent years but tends to be focused on pregnancy or childbirth and activity- or play-based programmes for fathers of toddlers, preschoolers and young school-aged children. Fathers surveyed by the New Fathers Cluster indicated a need for more information and support in the post-partum period, specifically.

Research on fatherhood in general and on transitions to fatherhood particularly is still nascent in Singapore. Both the approach taken by FIRA as well as the wide-ranging research questions it investigates around the topic of new fathers point to similar opportunities to strengthen fatherhood research and practice in Singapore. Even if not adopted specifically for the subject of new fathers, the collaborative model of building capacity to and conducting research can be considered and incubated here for the fatherhood sector as it matures.

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

First published on 11-01-2012.