Menu

Fathers Key to Tackling Child Health Crisis

Back to news listings

Involving fathers in children’s health care could be the key to tackling contemporary health problems, according to experts at the RCN International Centenary Conference (ICC).

With mounting issues in children’s mental health, obesity and sexual health, many fear UK children’s health is heading towards crisis point.

However, experts argue that increasing the involvement of fathers in their children’s health could make a significant difference – and reflect society’s move towards more equal balance of parental responsibilities.

According to Dr Tom Laws from Keele University, opportunities for men to participate in their children’s health are severely limited by barriers in health care organisations. Fathers are assumed to be less capable and, as a result, children’s health care is geared towards mothers and female family members.

Dr Laws said: “Children’s health services have not kept up with the rest of society. Fathers are playing a more hands-on in family life than ever before, yet children’s health care is still built to work specifically with mothers.

“At the moment, children’s health problems are escalating, and involving fathers could make a big difference. Nursing staff do have the ability to spark this change by defining a new role for contemporary fathers, encouraging their involvement and equipping them with the skills they need to support their children’s health.”

Sexual health is a particular area fathers can help to address, according to the University of Worcester’s Dr Clare Bennett. Studying fathers of pre-pubescent children, Dr Bennett found that while fathers were very much involved in their children’s daily lives, they struggled to discuss issues like relationships and reproduction with their children.

At the ICC today, Dr Bennett will argue that by being open with children about sexuality, fathers can help to protect their children from exploitation and can enable them to make more informed decisions regarding sex and relationships during adolescence.

Dr Bennett said: “Many fathers worry that by discussing sexual health issues with their children they risk taking away their child’s innocence. Yet in reality, by being open and honest with their children, fathers can protect them now and support them as they grow older in making more informed and safer decisions.

“We’ve found that fathers need to be given permission to discuss these types of issues. Nursing staff can play a big role in bringing fathers into the conversation and encouraging them to explore these matters with confidence.

“We need to go beyond accepted norms which give prominence to mothers and their role in children’s health – nurses need to question this practice at every opportunity, and develop new ways to involve fathers in their children’s care wherever appropriate.”

The RCN International Centenary Conference takes place at London’s QEII Centre from 22-23 November 2016. For more information please visit www.rcn.org.uk/international-centenary-conference