If we don’t take action to involved fathers, they end up being passively excluded from their children’s lives
—This is article #79 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
I am lucky to be a Labour Co Op Councillor, and lead member for children, as father of three and step dad of four, it perhaps is no surprise I am immersed in Children’s Services. I see fatherhood as an issue politicians need to start talking about; to be fair David Lammy MP has led with that.
I have never quite understood why the involvement of fathers in early reading is so patchy. What I do know is that fathers represent a huge untapped resource to help many children read and learn to love books. When my son was at Primary school, we were encouraged two mornings a week to come in for 15 minutes of ‘paired reading’. Simple stuff but being invited in and seeing other Dads there was important. It was fun.
He is on his way to being a Doctor now. You never forget those great books Colin McNaughton’s books still resonate for me. Roald Dahl’s gory stories too. We found something as a group of Dads that became fun, and from what I’ve read, that makes for dads who then get far more involved with books and children, share the reading and get the fun out of books when there are a huge range of other, quite distracting media.
There is a lot of debate about how we can increase literacy levels, with initiatives working across Bradford like the new National Literacy Trust Hub.
Also we have the Dolly Parton Inspired Canterbury Imagination Library in Bradford so books will be in the home for free. Charities such as Reading Matters also use voluntary reading mentors many of whom are men.
As well as working with the 10 or more lone father households, we are trying to target the role of male carers, especially dads, to boost reading in families and communities. So we have three children’s centres targeting male carers in a variety of ways. With the support of Bradford Bulls, Yorkshire Cricket and Bradford City, we are trying to target fathers to make a real difference.
‘Fathers Reading Every Day’
I am passionate about this. Years of work in the family courts and case work as a councillor confirms to me that there has been a sort of passive exclusion of fathers from early education involvement , as well as men just not getting down on that mat and pulling out a funny book and being ready to laugh and be laughed at.
Research though shows us that Dads really do matter here, even if we are there at weekends or have shared care of our kids, oh and do not forget the step dads, step granddads etc. We have found there is a need to target work with more disadvantaged kids , in fact research from the Fatherhood Institute programme called ‘Fathers Reading Every Day’ in south London showed improvements beyond expectations , 42% of children made greater progress than expected compared to 115 of those who did not take part.
This brings us on to look at the role we Dads play in the development of children, especially the most disadvantaged and how working with fathers is a key policy area to focus on if we are to transform the prospects for many girls and boys. Active fathers really matter, they really do. Kids get higher IQ’s, better cognitive competence, problem solving skills , fewer behavioural problems in schools , better attachment to the father, are better able to cope with stress, and a lot more (see Williams and Steinberg).
But to get very practical, we are looking at unlocking the potential that is out there. A father’s reading habits and involvement are key. However, not every child is a keen reader, and not every father finds it easy, so we need to talk about it and get educators and early years practitioners to constantly look for Dads’ involvement and support it. The evidence is compelling about a positive relationship between children’s literacy skills and that of their fathers.
If we add to this the significance of the secure and beneficial relationship of a child with the father, including the fathers who do not live with their children all the time, then we can see the dad factor is key in opening up horizons. But many men have not had a great start themselves, and patterns need to be changed, which is why getting in early is so important. So the Literacy Hub in Bradford is going to work with volunteer male carers and train them up with literacy support programmes working with the home.
It’s not a do it somewhere else thing. Moreover, it has to be fun. We need to celebrate this stuff. It is another reason to have men in early year’s settings as well.
Ralph Berry, Labour Councillor, Wibsey Ward, Bradford. See his website here and follow him on Twitter @CllrRalphBerry
—Picture credit: Flickr/Kelly Sikkema
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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