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UK fathers in the first year after birth – we need to do better

13th June 2022

The iHV welcomes the important findings of the latest report, ‘Bringing Baby Home’ published by the Fatherhood Institute for Fathers’ Day and Infant Mental Health Awareness Week. The report is based on the findings of a systematic scoping review of the UK literature on UK fathers in their baby’s first year after the birth. The report presents findings on men’s adjustment to fatherhood; relationship with their partner; associations of ‘father-factors’ with mother wellbeing and child outcomes; engagement with services; and related policies in the four countries of the UK.

The Fatherhood Institute’s hard-hitting conclusion is that NHS maternity, health visiting and other family services are failing babies by ignoring their fathers during the first postnatal year. It finds that even without the additional challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, services are often not set up to engage with, assess and support new fathers. This is despite clear evidence that fathers’ physical and mental health has a significant impact on babies’ future health and wellbeing, on key maternal outcomes and that the perinatal period can be a ‘golden moment’ for encouraging better health behaviours among fathers.

Alison Morton, iHV Executive Director, says:

“Health Visitors know and understand the important role that fathers play in family life and the health and wellbeing of all family members – they wholeheartedly agree with the premise of this report and want to be enabled to deliver father-inclusive services. The report’s hard-hitting findings make difficult reading, with stories of families being let down – but they point yet again to the need to address the root cause of this problem. If things are to change, we need to address the systemic and structural challenges that are hampering efforts to deliver father-inclusive services. We also cannot ignore the ‘elephant in the room’ – we need more health visitors – we have a national shortage of around 5,000 health visitors and this results in less time being available to provide families with the support they need, and families are facing the brunt of this with a postcode lottery of support.

“This report provides clear evidence that this needs to change and that investing in father-inclusive care and early help makes sound economic sense. At the iHV we have great examples of where health visiting services have developed father-inclusive services, we have also trained health visitor ‘Father Champions’, but more needs to be done. We agree with the report’s authors that ‘father-inclusive care’ should be the norm and not the exception.”

The report’s authors make four key recommendations for how services could be improved:

  1. Fathers’ names, contact details and NHS numbers should be entered onto NHS birth notifications so that fathers can be contacted directly by services. As is the case for mothers, the father’s NHS number would link to his medical record for use by practitioners and for research purposes, within a framework of data protection law and ethical guidelines.
  2. All tax-funded services and interventions for families in the perinatal period – including those commissioned by central government (e.g. the Reducing Parental Conflict programme and Family Hubs) should be commissioned, designed, delivered, promoted and evaluated in ways that recognise fathers’ own need for support (whether or not they share a household with the child’s mother) and their impact on children and mothers. Practitioners should use evidence-based strategies to achieve high levels of father-inclusion, and should follow (and where relevant be inspected against) key guidance. The Fatherhood Institute is working with the Royal College of Midwives to produce a father-engagement toolkit, to be published in October 2022.
  3. The government should fund, pilot and evaluate a scalable, locality-wide approach to embedding father-inclusive practice across a whole network of perinatal services in a number of local areas.
  4. Given the unavailability of parental leave to the vast majority of UK fathers, and the huge significance of fathers’ participation in solo parental care in baby’s first year for later care patterns, the government should pilot new approaches to leave taking, focused on different groups of working fathers, including those who are employed, self-employed and working in the ‘gig economy’. Ways in which employers do or could support fathers should be included in the pilot.

Adrienne Burgess, Head of Research at the Fatherhood Institute, who co-authored the report, said:

“We ourselves were stunned, when we pulled this research together, to discover the extent to which infant and child outcomes (and outcomes for mothers, too) are impacted by fathers’ behaviour and characteristics in the first few months after the birth. It is also deeply disappointing to discover that no systematic support is offered to new fathers by NHS providers – no recognition of their role, or even, sometimes, their existence.”

At the Institute of Health Visiting, we are keen to be part of the solution – we have been working with the EU PATH Partnership and Dad Matters UK to produce a suite of new resources for healthcare professionals on father-inclusive services.

Look out for our blog on ‘All things Dad’ on Friday 17 June which launches these resources and sets out the work that we are leading to support ‘father-inclusive’ services.







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