Father Involvement in Canada: An Emerging Movement

Article excerpt


Fathers have been all but invisible in Canadian government policies and programs (Lero, Ashbourne, & Whitehead, 2006), but growing momentum among researchers and community-based practitioners aims to address that exclusion. In the past decade, research on father involvement in Canada has grown from a scattering of disparate studies to a collection in which some unifying themes can be discerned. Much of this research has been produced by investigators across the country working in a variety of disciplines and networked through a coalition called the Father Involvement Research Alliance (FIRA). Exploratory studies, descriptive surveys, and policy analyses are examining what fatherhood means to men, how they learn fatherhood and are involved with their children, and the ways that family law and provisions for parental leave affect fathers' involvement with their children, prenatally onward. Father-focused practice in community programs is also gaining momentum. And some provincial governments have recently allocated funds for training and employment of father outreach and support workers in community-based family resource centers, child development centers, and community health promotion programs.

While these developments do not yet constitute a father involvement movement, a growing network of Canadian investigators, policymakers, and practitioners are raising the visibility of fathers as important contributors to the quality of children's lives. This article highlights research, policies, and programs that promote positive father involvement and explores shifting gender roles, diversity, and social inclusion as themes that are particularly salient to fatherhood in Canada.


Shifting Gender Roles

One of the essential ways that Canada supports families is via the 2001 Employment Insurance Act, which allows parents to receive almost a year of paid parental leave. While the initial 15 weeks can only be taken by mothers as maternity benefits, either mothers or fathers can take the latter 35 weeks. While mothers most frequently take that leave as well, fathers increasingly are taking more. In 2000, the last year before Canada introduced the new leave allowance for fathers, only one in 33 men took paid parental leave. By 2006, one in five men took paid leave. The average length of a paid paternity leave in English-speaking Canada was 17 weeks (Marshall, 2006). In Quebec, where fathers are entitled to 3-5 weeks of paternity leave with higher benefits than are provided under the federal program, over 50% of fathers take paternity leave (Doucet & Tremblay, 2007).

Pointing to shifting gender practices in parenting, Daly (2009) emphasizes the need to base programs of support for fathers on a recognition that the kinds of information and support men need--and the kinds of programs they will respond to--ate likely to be different from those for mothers. In Canada, most fathering programs modeled after mothering programs have not been well-attended.

Daly suggests turning the tables and focusing on children's impact on their fathers as a more productive approach to understanding and reaching out to fathers. In his exploratory study, Daly found that fathers of young children often talk about how their children contribute to their sense of growing maturity, responsibility, and engagement, and help them learn about and deal with their own emotions in the context of their parenting activities. Daly proposes that programs for fathers might be framed as ways to get in touch with their emotional responses to parenting and share their experiences with other fathers. Because many fathers in his study also mentioned regrets about a lack of time for leisure activities, he also suggests that recreation and fitness programs geared to fathers and their children might be appealing. Drawing from research pointing to the positive effects of involvement with their children on fathers' mental health and self-concept, Daly recommends that advocates for government investment in fathering programs emphasize health benefits for fathers as much as they emphasize positive outcomes for children. …