Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
December 03, 2003
U of G at centre of $1.6-million father involvement project
The benefits and barriers fathers experience from being involved in their children’s lives are the focus of a $1.6-million national community/university research project headed by a University of Guelph professor.
Kerry Daly of the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition has received nearly $1 million from the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for the Father Involvement Research Alliance (FIRA). FIRA has also secured an additional $675,000 from eight participating universities and more than 25 community partners. A blend of advocacy, research and knowledge dissemination, FIRA will involve professors, fathers, advocates, social service practitioners and community groups from across the country.
“Fathers have become more involved with their children in the last 20 years, but a lot of dads still play second string,” Daly said. “Culturally, fathers continue to be depicted in ways that ignore them or relegate them to provider functions.” In addition, public parenting services traditionally target mothers, he said.
“There is a general tendency to consider father involvement as a private matter. Our approach is to treat it as a public issue. We believe in the importance of examining father involvement as a diverse, multifaceted and complex experience.”
Fathering occurs under many conditions and many family contexts, depending on factors such as ethnicity, backgrounds and sexual orientation, Daly said. FIRA’s research will focus on issues raised by seven clusters: aboriginal fathers, divorced fathers, fathers of special-needs children, gay fathers, immigrant fathers, new fathers and teen fathers. “One of our goals is to look specifically at what it’s like to be a dad under those circumstances, what the challenges are, and develop research and programs to address these challenges,” he said.
Edward Bader, FIRA’s community co-chair and co-ordinator of the York region group Focus on Fathers, added: “This project is unique because our agenda was formed based on the needs and shared interests of fathers themselves, rather than on theory.” A partnership where fathers, community groups, policy makers and university researchers all contribute unique expertise and skills “will have a more immediate and relevant impact on fathers’ lives than conventional research would allow,” he said.
Daly and his collaborators hope to generate a baseline of Canadian knowledge that can contribute to public decision-making and community and policy development. “Research on father involvement in Canada has lagged behind research in other developed countries,” Daly said. The group also aims to heighten awareness of father involvement and engage dads in a process of change.
The benefits of father involvement are well-established, Daly said. Children of involved fathers exhibit higher cognitive competency, emotional well-being, social competency and positive peer relationships. Men who actively participate in family life report lower levels of distress and higher life satisfaction. Yet statistics show that Canadian men still put in more hours of paid work and spend only about two-thirds of the amount of time mothers do on child care, and only about 10 per cent of eligible fathers claim parental benefits, despite increased parental leave benefits in recent years.
The growing perception that men and women are interchangeable between family and working worlds is not the reality, Daly said. “There is still a need to address father involvement as a matter of gender equity because women continue to do more of the work at home. A major impetus for this project was the overall level of work and family stress that men and women are experiencing. Increasing father involvement is important in terms of providing an overall balance in work and home life and as a protective condition aimed at healthy child development, well-being and resilience.”
FIRA is the outcome of more than three years of national partnership building with fathers, policy-makers, researchers and practitioners. SSHRC is providing $999,750 over five years under its Community-University Research Alliances program. FIRA will be run out of the U of G’s Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being.
Fathers of children with special needs
For media questions, contact University of Guelph, Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.