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Fathers experience multiple barriers to accessing health services, says review

Fathers experience multiple barriers to accessing health services, say the authors of a study published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia on 17 March 2024.

'Barriers and opportunities for health service access among fathers: A review of empirical evidence' says health services hold the key to fathers' improved engagement.

“Evidence-based, innovative strategies, informed by fathers' needs and healthy masculinities, are needed to engage fathers in health services.”

The review was funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care and undertaken by Karen Wynter (Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Sciences, Monash University), Kayla A. Monsour (Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development (Deakin University), Faye Forbes (School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (Monash University), and Jacqui A. Macdonald (Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development (Deakin University).

They aimed to  describe available evidence on barriers and opportunities relevant to health system access for fathers, drawing on 52 Australian studies and 44 international reviews.

They found that the most commonly reported barriers were at the health service level, which was related to an exclusionary health service focus on mothers.

Some barriers were termed ‘surface’, for example, appointment times limited to traditional employment hours. ‘Deep factors’ were identified where health services perpetuated traditional gender norms of mothers as ‘caregivers’ and fathers as ‘supporters or ‘providers’.

“Opportunities for father engagement include offering father-specific resources and support, and facilitating health professionals' confidence and training in working with fathers,” they  noted. “Ideally, top-down policies should support fathers as infant caregivers in a family-based approach.”

The authors say the Australian National Men's Health Strategy 2020–2030 recommends expanding the maternal and child health infrastructure to include fathers.

“Internationally, the World Health Organisation strongly recommends interventions to promote male partners' involvement in maternal and newborn health.”

The researchers conclude that “adequate provision of health care support for men in preparation for fatherhood and across the key parenting years has the potential for far-reaching individual and intergenerational benefits.

“The perinatal period in particular represents an opportunity to improve health care access. During pregnancy and after the birth of a child, men are at risk of poorer physical and mental health, but also often have considerable contact with health services and are motivated to improve their health and behaviours.

However, this review demonstrates that fathers experience multiple barriers to accessing health services, with most included studies focused on early parenthood. Top-down health service restructuring to support fathers as part of a parenting team is required to ensure fathers' health needs are recognised and addressed. When this occurs, it will be critical that data are collected and disseminated to quantify the impacts of change for fathers, mothers and children.”

Download: Barriers and opportunities for health service access among fathers: A review of empirical evidence


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