FATHERS are averse to attending parenting education classes and do not seem to get the same benefits from them as mothers, a new study shows.
But it’s not the fault of fathers. ”It’s as if parenting courses are stuck in the 1950s where the gender division is accepted as natural and entrenched,” said Richard Fletcher, head of the fathers and families research program at the University of Newcastle.
A ”fathering blindspot” among practitioners and researchers meant they were not being reached, retained in courses or studied separately to mothers. Results showing the success of parenting courses disguised low attendance by fathers and the lower impact the programs appeared to have on the few who did attend.
The study, published in the United States journal Fathering, looked closely at the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, developed by Professor Matt Sanders and his team at the University of Queensland.
Over the past two decades the program has been adopted around the world and evaluated – mostly positively – in many studies that showed ”parent” behaviour changed for the better, and as a result so did the child’s.
The NSW Labor government spent $5.2 million to provide Triple P trainers and free lessons for parents. But only 14 per cent of the attendees have been fathers, according to a recent independent evaluation.
Dr Fletcher said it was absurd a government-funded program should convey the message mothers should take all the responsibility for child development, and it was the mother’s behaviour that determined the child’s success.
His analysis, based on 28 published evaluations of Triple P groups, confirms father attendance rarely surpassed 20 per cent. Of the almost 5000 parents involved in the studies, 983 were fathers. As well, while a large positive effect on mothers’ parenting practices was noted, the effect on fathers was much smaller.
”From other research we know fathers have an important role in managing their children and influencing their development,” Dr Fletcher, author of The Dad Factor, said. ”If fathers are not involved results will be worse for the children.”
He said making courses more father-friendly was not ”rocket science” and involved use of male facilitators, online courses and a problem-based approach.
Professor Sanders strongly denied the implication the Triple P program made no effort to recruit fathers or that fathers did not benefit. ”The program still had significant [positive] impact on the fathers,” he said.
Even if fathers did not attend, the improvement in child behaviour as a result of the mother’s attendance led to a reduction in couple conflict. He said though mothers usually bore the brunt of children’s behavioural and emotional problems, the organisation was researching ways to attract and retain fathers with a British trial of online courses, and focus groups to tweak course content.
”It’s crucial in making courses father friendly they don’t become mother unfriendly,” he said. ”There’s no doubt fathers are important in the lives of children but there’s contradictory evidence on whether increased father involvement in parenting classes improves outcomes for children.”
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