Stimulating Interest in Early Childhood Care and Development: A Focus on the Role of Fathers

Research has shown the critical importance of parents in a child’s formative years. Yet too often fathers are not active participants in the parenting process.

To address this issue, Plan International, funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, is implementing an Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) project in the counties of Homa Bay, Siaya, and Kisumu Counties of Kenya. The project utilizes a Community-Led Action for Children (CLAC) approach, integrating a key component that promotes positive parenting through education sessions for caregiver groups. When the project was initiated in 2012, only 17 percent of participants were males, prompting the crafting of creative interventions to improve male participation, thereby enhancing the benefits that accrue due to involved fathers.

The most promising interventions have included the (1) introduction of fun and play activities for fathers and their children (dubbed Fathers’ Day Out); (2) establishment of fathers-only group sessions (complementing the ongoing sessions for both parents) to address gender stereotypes and improve the understanding of more holistic childcare practices; (3) introduction of a Voluntary Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) within the parenting groups to infuse economically viable activities into parenting activities, both enhancing fathers’ involvement and leading to increased positive impact on childcare; and (4) provision of branded Information, Education, and Communications (IEC) materials to motivate fathers and highlight their roles as ambassadors in their own communities.

Since the project’s inception, male participation has doubled to 34 percent (2017), resulting in male caregivers’ active participation in creation of developmentally-appropriate teaching-learning materials to support quality learning; the strengthening of school feeding programs; improved support during antenatal clinic visits of expectant wives; active escorting of children to school; participation in academic clinics; and simply being positive role models for other fathers. The project has demonstrated that fathers can and will get involved and in turn support the more holistic development of their children. In a bid to consolidate the gains thus far, the project plans to further explore registration of the groups with the department of Gender and Social Services, improve group linkages to microfinance institutions, and actively promote model fathers within the community. This active commitment to fathers’ engagement and the project’s experimentation with such activities has the potential to further inform those strategies and incentives that motivate fathers’ behavior change and promote shifts in community gender norms, and it offers insights on how these changes actually impact fathers’ direct connection and communication with their young children.