An Unequal Chance to Parent Examples on Support Fathers Receive from the Swedish Child Health Field

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Father involvement benefits children, mothers, and themselves in a number of ways. Swedish legislation and Swedish society have promoted father involvement. At the same time, the Swedish child health field has also unequivocally states that both parents should feel welcomed and supported within that sphere. Despite these statements and policies, fathers feel neglected and invisible within and throughout the Swedish child health field, which includes prenatal clinics, birth and labor wards, postnatal clinics, child health centers, and parent support programs. Less is known however about the factors that influence father involvement in the child health centers, especially from the child health nurses’ perspective and the influence of the built environment. Additionally, parent support programs are another way through which parents receive support regarding their young child’s mental health, but very little research has focused on why fathers participate or the thoughts parents have regarding their participation, especially within a Swedish context.The overall aim of this dissertation was to better understand some of the barriers fathers have when trying to participate in the female-dominated world of the Swedish child health field, especially during the child’s preschool years. In Study I, 17 child health nurses were interviewed regarding their thoughts on fathers, and in Study II, 31 child health centers’ built environments were assessed to see how inclusive they were of fathers. In Study III, a parent support program was assessed to see if mothers and fathers had different background characteristics for participating, and Study IV sought to understand the extent to which parents appreciated and used the information from the program.These studies showed that child health nurses welcomed fathers, but did not actively invite them to participate. In addition, 75% of the child health centers did not have representations of fathers, but most child health centers had representations of mothers and/or children. Paternal behaviors positively changed if they were in an environment with either explicit paternal representations or only child representations. Mothers participated in the parent support program for several reasons, including if their child had perceived behavior problems, while fathers participated if they were stressed and perceived their child as having emotional problems. Parents believed the information they learned in the parent support program was valuable, and they continued using some strategies a year after the intervention.Swedish family policies can affect parental involvement within the child health field, but the child health field is less inclusive of fathers than mothers, and it fails to meet the needs of fathers, which can then, in turn, negatively affect maternal, paternal, and child outcomes. Therefore, the Swedish child health field needs to continue working on improving their practices of treating both parents equally.