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Engaging Fathers in Child and Youth Mental Health Support

Evidence-based parenting support has been demonstrated to have both immediate and long-term positive effects on children’s wellbeing outcomes. While in the past parenting programs and supports that involved parents had included only mothers, today we know that involving fathers can have important beneficial outcomes for children and young people. It can be challenging for clinicians to know where to start when it comes to involving fathers in evidence-based parenting support. A review article by Lechowicz et al. (2019) provided guidance to practitioners on the steps to engaging fathers in services and supports aimed at improving the well-being of children and young people.

  1. Engage members of the core parenting team

Primary caregivers for children and young people may come in several gender and age combinations and it is important for practitioners to identify and engage core members of the parenting team.  That is, efforts should be made to identify and engage the caregivers who are responsible for providing most of the caregiving to the child.

  1. Increase fathers’ awareness of parenting interventions

Research indicates that fathers may have low levels of awareness about parenting supports and services for child and youth mental health and may question whether services are appropriate for them. Services can proactively communicate the importance of father participation in promotional materials and at first contact with a family.

  1. Ensure delivery of programs is father-inclusive

When a family engages in a service, it is important for practitioners to directly invite a father to participate. Fathers are more likely to attend when they feel that their parenting role is valued, and their involvement is important.

A direct approach may not always be possible, and practitioners should not assume that a non-attending parent is disinterested or disengaged. Indirect engagement, such as participating in at-home discussions about program content and actioning program strategies, may also effectively engage non-attending fathers.

  1. Increase organisational support for father-inclusive practice

Services and practices can take a number of proactive steps to enhance the likelihood of father attendance at sessions by: i) emphasising the importance of father attendance and collecting data on father engagement; ii) promoting flexible service delivery models including online programs and outside hours sessions that make it easier for fathers to attend; and iii) ensuring promotional materials emphasise the importance of involving fathers.

  1. Increase practitioner training on engaging fathers

Father-inclusive practice is likely to improve because of practitioner training targeted towards increasing:

  • Knowledge about the importance of fathers’ participation in programs for improving outcomes for children and families.
  • Self-reflection on attitudes and beliefs about fathers.
  • Skills to positively engage fathers; and
  • Skills to promote father-inclusive practice within a practitioner’s team or organisation.


Lechowicz, Jiang, Y., Tully, L. A., Burn, M. T., Collins, D. A. J., Hawes, D. J., Lenroot, R. K., Anderson, V., Doyle, F. L., Piotrowska, P. J., Frick, P. J., Moul, C., Kimonis, E. R., & Dadds, M. R. (2019). Enhancing Father Engagement in Parenting Programs: Translating Research into Practice Recommendations. Australian Psychologist54(2), 83–89. https://doi.org/10.1111/ap.12361

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