‘Father figures’ seminar: notes from discussion groups

At our ‘Father figures’ seminar last week, we scheduled discussion sessions in which we asked participants to share their thoughts, in small groups, on the issues raised by our speakers. In this post, we’re sharing the notes that the groups made of their discussions, in a fairly ‘raw’ form: we’ll try to draw the key points together, and explore their implications for our research project, at a future date.

ff discussion general

In the morning session, we asked participants to explore what they thought were the gaps in research on social fatherhood. In the afternoon, the groups turned their attention to the gaps in support services for social and non-biological fathers. Here are the notes from those group discussions:

What are the gaps in research on social fathers?

  • Fatherhood generally! – fathers’ self-definitions and how they see their roles e.g. caring – both for bio and non-bio fathers
  • Expectancy and early years
  • Negotiations in division of labour – same sex couples
  • Services –
  • How to pro-actively engage dads
  • How to keep them involved and empowered in their roles
  • Tackling stereotypes – deadbeat dads – ‘special’ fathers
  • Post-natal depression in fathers – mental health concerns
  • Newborn non-bio fathers – bonding issues
  • Focus groups – role?
  • Daddy doing work
  • Generally, much more is known about mothering and women’s roles in parenting
  • Has it really changed, or is the father’s role just more visible now?
  • Research needs to compare past and present roles, and the implications
  • Are professions working with families representing society’s views, or do they have their onw particular view of fathers (e.g. around pregnancy, childbith, fostering, disabilities, school)
  • Is there a different discourse for fathers and stepfathers?
  • Has there been research into children’s perspectives?
  • Definitions of ‘step parent’ – 11% figure low?
  • What defines step relationship – residency – relationship status
  • International understanding of roles (step / social parents)
  • Within UK it’s linked to tax / benefits so clear definitions or understanding needed
  • Housing policy against forming good relationships with children
  • Poverty effects of step families (not the same choices)
  • Research positive aspects of fatherhood / social
  • What works in good healthy families- let’s learn from what’s there?
  • Single fathers – no resident mother
  • Does a social father have to be male?
  • Are older sister carers ‘mum’ or ‘dad’?
  • Are long mothers also in social fathering role?
  • What about lone mothers who say ‘I don’t need a man’? – are children missing out?
  • Is ‘residency’ vital?
  • Does being resident make you a social father?
  • Are some men just there for the ‘nice bits’?
  • Does being a social / stepfather require ‘acceptance’ as such by all parties?
  • Does age of entry (of father or child) into role make a difference?
  • What about families with succession of temporary fathers?
  • Can you have multiple father figures?
  • Were there ‘social fathers’ in wartime, when many men were ‘absent’ fathers?
  • Has new focus on nuclear family made father ‘absence’ more of an issue?
  • Distinction of bio and non bio – real or perceived- self-fulfilling prophecy
  • When in family development are the pivotal moments between partners and children?
  • Motivations for fathering – Relationship with mother / other parent
  • Change and social construction across countries and cultures (e.g. paternity leave)
  • Social gatekeeping – ‘has daddy dressed you today?’
  • Demystify (terminology)
  • Appreciate and better understand distinctive challenge (and age, class, ‘intersection’)
  • How we define role and ‘distinctiveness’ – comparison and complementairty
  • ‘Profound changes’
  • Recover / emphasise the ‘positive’, the healthy, the good

What are the gaps in support for social fathers?

  • Attitudes to fathers – how to challenge and change
  • Universal vs. tailored – different fathering statuses and backgrounds – some more receptive and some more reluctant to engage – what do you do about that?
  • Stepfathers – support that is available for them – no engagement from state. Stepfathers have to seek it out and may find nothing.
  • Data collection – re. who uses services – what kind of questions/info should be gathered?
  • What is stopping people/fathers from looking for help? – unaware, stigma, unwelcome
  • Innovative outreach: reframing activites and locations
  • Signposting in forums/services – but where and how?
  • How do you reach people?
  • No clear pathways – often unexpected life event
  • General parenting support vs. tailored (e.g. stepfamily, grandparent) – how can one organisation cover so many types of care?
  • Professionals only do what they have to
  • Policy – gives message to professionals
  • Policy – joint birth registration
  • Gender equality – parenting – societal view
  • More than focus on fathers
  • Language and terminology – something inherent in how we talk about services for parents that may not resonate with tmen
  • Images
  • Going to where men are – not just physically but imaginatively and virtually – and use of employers
  • Talking about social fathering – talk of support services to father probably not inclusive of social fathering
  • Training issues? (attitudinal rather than information)
  • Accessibility: timing of groups, services, meetings, etc
  • Female dominated social care
  • Training/systems/assumptions
  • Support for fathering – beyond baby care
  • Education re. social fathers
  • Loss of community networks / support
  • Needs for accessible forums
  • Utilising older men – social capital – men being useful at different life stages
  • Language used
  • Seeing them as equal – not treating them as ‘special’
  • Include them!
  • Contact details – collect
  • Tackling stereotypes
  • Confidence of facilitators/practitioners
  • Belief and understanding of practitioners
  • Child’s point of view – is this heard? – understanding – age of child – significant
  • Similarities of parenting – acknowledging difference
  • Recognised
  • Question of confidence /support
  • Role of state for step parent
  • Role of law – legal issues – lack of stability
  • Issue of biological / step parent feelings and point of view of child in this
  • Pre-emptive step parent support similar to expectant parents
  • Raising positive profile – counter stereotypes

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