Fatherhood Engagement in Early Childhood Development in Emergencies

Levels of Learning - Early Childhood Development

What father engagement is and why it matters to children' development

Emergency responses by international, national, and local actors have traditionally prioritized health, food, water/sanitation and other traditional “necessities.” And though these are indisputably important, often children's early developmental and educational needs are put on the back burner. But what does this mean? This means that children in these environments are growing up with unmet developmental needs that will likely cause cognitive and emotional setbacks, behavioral issues, and unpreparedness for early education and other important stages of life. 

Early childhood development interventions are helpful in mitigating negative childhood experiences with the help of two engaged caregivers, and can help meet the needs of children throughout their developmental stages. Their main goal is to address the overwhelming impact of emergencies on children's emotional, psychological, social and overall development. Plan International and Promundo’s report package Promoting Men’s Engagement in Early Childhood Development, highlights how fatherhood/men’s engagement is associated with “better cognitive development and higher education, better peer relationships and greater capacity for empathy, lower rates of criminality and substance abuse” and more in children. It has also been linked to better partner relationships, ensuring that their partners get the appropriate prenatal and postnatal care for example. So in the cases of emergencies, efforts are being made to ensure that child development services and programmes are welcoming and openly encouraging father/male caregivers’ engagement. 

How this changes in emergencies & why that matters

Though exceptions exist, in many cultures around the world women and girls have been designated as children's primary caregiver, responsible for the child's well-being and developmental growth. Consequently, men have been designated the role of protection and financial provision for the family. In some cultures, engaged fathers are perceived as participating in a feminie role. Some may feel that financially providing for their family is all their role as caregivers includes. Community leaders may also uphold this norm by not modeling fatherhood engagement, not addressing the lack of fatherhood engagement in their communities, and more. Therefore, making it more difficult for one to go against the grain. 

Emergencies can result in loss of livelihoods and changed social roles. Power dynamics within families, communities, and societies are often in flux, and can change women’s and men’s status. Work prospects for men are often significantly reduced, which can result in greater tension in the family and a higher risk of gender-based violence. Exposure to violence and toxic stress is damaging to children's development because it can cause unhealthy coping mechanisms, increase stress-related illnesses and disrupt brain development. 

Despite what social norms dictate, many studies have shown that two engaged and present caregivers contribute to a child's emotional development, self-confidence and social outcomes. Fatherhood engagement increases the likelihood of women being able to complete their education and/or seek employment, which can contribute to the physical, mental, and financial well being of the family. It will also improve mothers' wellbeing, so she's more able to be engaged if she's not overburdened with domestic responsibilities, and models a healthy relationship for their children. 

How to promote meaningful engagement from fathers (with practical examples) 

Like many social interventions, encouraging a community to embrace a different perspective on social norms can be a long process. Some strategies among others for improving fatherhood engagement in programmes include:

  1. Mutual learning & Support for men: approaching men directly through group education approaches, home visits and other strategies; promoting their engagement in existing group programs/activities or creating men/father specific programs and group activities, e.g. fathers day programme. See Chapter 2 
  2. Strengthening health and early childhood education services in order that these enable and support men’s engagement: for instance, understand the communities views on this matter, approach influential community members to prompt men’s engagement in child caring professions, at community-based activities/events.  See Chapters 3 and 4 
  3. Working with community members to support community dialogue and reflection and engaging community leaders and norm “trend-setters”: these are often elders, faith, traditional, political and elected leaders who act as trusted guiding forces for their communities. With the approval of these community leaders, changes in norms are more likely to occur.  See Chapter 5 
  4. Developing effective Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) strategies and messaging: analysis of the factors that influence people's behavior, using different mediums of communication to influence change to these factors and create new norms. See Chapter 7

Related Resources

About the Author

Talatou Bah

Talatou Bah is a Senior at The City College of New York majoring in International Studies with a concentration in Development. Since the beginning of her college career she has held various education positions, ranging from Youth Development Coach at PowerPlay to College Transition Coach at her high school where she worked to empower students through the social emotional development approaches and tools. She also worked in education advocacy as a uAspire fellow, where she built her advocacy skills through storytelling to create a policy memo that would influence local representatives on higher education affordability and equity. This experience led her to intern this summer at the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, where she learned about children and education in emergencies while also contributing to administrative projects such as membership self assessment tool and CPMS e-course module development this summer at the Alliance. She plans on pursuing international education opportunities post-graduation either abroad or in New York City.