Winthrop Professor Bruce Robinson, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, Director of the Fathering Project and 2013 West Australian of the Year
The problem: When writing books about busy fathers I discovered that the absence of a strong and appropriate father figure was the most significant factor in many major health and wellbeing issues for young people.
These include substance abuse, participation in sport, self esteem, school behaviour, crime and lack of personal values. Unfortunately, exposure to risks have increased at the same time that fathers' ability to deal with those risks has reduced.
Kids now face pressures from drugs, cyber bullying, childhood obesity, and greater sexual pressures than ever seen before. At the same time, fathers and father figures have a reduced capacity to deliver what kids need, with longer hours away from home at work, less help available from distant extended family, fewer good role models, little training in how to be a good dad and the challenges of separation/divorce.
The vision: To improve future health and wellbeing in adolescents by giving every child the opportunity of input from a strong and appropriate father figure.
The strategy: The School of Medicine and Pharmacology SCGH Unit has hosted a Fathering Project, funded by Healthways, the Federal Department of Education and private donations.
Our research has shown us that men need DVDs, not long books. We have successfully produced DVDs with short booklets, and a website with social media resources. We are now creating similar high-quality resources for specific situations, including FIFO workers, drugs, exercise, education, daughters, sons, aboriginal father figures.
In order to get the resources to the men and make some real change, we must reach out and engage directly with them. We have a track record of success at getting to men and changing their knowledge and behaviours. We have presented to more than 13,000 people at schools, workplaces and community groups as well as through our website, weekly emails and Twitter.
Importantly, our research has taught us to get to fathers early. We aim to get to them in the first years of their children's primary schooling, and to get to every school in WA, within five years, and every school in Australia within 10 years.
As a University-based organisation, it is vital that all of our work is underpinned by careful research and strong publications. We get accurate statistics of current problems (personal and economic) as well as evaluating the effectiveness of our resources and outreach. We have six UWA students studying the relationship between father figure input and substance abuse and eating disorder. We are collaborating with ECU, and Professor Donna Cross (Curtin) who helped found the project.
The combination of an urgent need to help father figures plus an effective program to do this could make vastly more difference to the future of Australian children than many other projects. Through our unique approach, with quality resources, targeted outreach and research, we have a real chance of making a major difference.
Leadership: The Fathering Project has a Director, three staff and a strong interim Board, chaired by John Bond, and Advisory Group, chaired by Mimi Packer. Endorsement has come from community leaders and experts in the field including, Michael Chaney, Donna Cross, Steve Biddulph, Tim Costello, Fiona Wood, John Akehurst, Justin Langer, Geraldine Doogue, Dennis Lillee, Peter le Souef, Kim Beazley and the Presidents of the WA Primary and Secondary School Principals associations. The Fathering Project has also already been recognised with several awards, including Family Service and Men's Advisory Network Awards.
To volunteer or learn more, go to The Fathering Project website: www.thefatheringproject.org