Fathers Matter Coach – A Supportive Tool for Dads

by | Jun 21, 2024 | Blog

In South Africa, about 65% of children do not have father figures who play an active father role in their lives.

Studies show that children who grow up without the active positive presence of one or more men in their lives are at risk of being victims or perpetrators of violence, mental illness, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and poor educational and economic outcomes. If a father is positively involved in the first years of a child’s life, they are more likely to be present thereafter.

Although research shows that fathers desire close relationships with their children, some fathers struggle to develop and maintain close bonds with their children. Biological fathers who do not live with their children are one group of fathers that often experience such challenges. Additionally, fathers often deal with their challenges in isolation and are not actively pursued for emotional support interventions. They remain at high risk of vulnerabilities, thus perpetuating unhealthy masculinities and reducing father engagement behaviour. While it’s more acceptable for men to express their emotions and get support than it used to be, it’s still important that we address the ongoing stigma and shame some fathers may experience when they ask for help or somebody to freely confide in. 

Consequently, studies have shown that fathers’ mental health has been linked to adverse effects on maternal and child health and development, including a variety of negative socio-emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioural outcomes in children.  Despite this knowledge, the importance of promoting fathers’ well-being is not fully acknowledged or widely addressed. Men’s anxiety about being fathers is similarly neglected with resources largely directed and focused on maternal and child well-being, often completely overlooking the need to support fathers. Where mental health interventions for fathers are available, it is not always possible to tell how well they engage with these services. 

Encouraging Father Engagement and Knowledge-Sharing

Fathers Matter ECD is one of Heartline’s initiatives that support the positive role of men in the lives of young children. Through Heartlines Fathers Matter Project, an incredible tool called Fathers Matter Coach was developed, to encourage father engagement and support positive father involvement in the lives of their children.

Fathers experience obstacles and barriers to healthy father-child relationships including lack of resources due to unemployment and poverty, lack of community support and challenging mother-father relationships. Fathers need safe supportive spaces to freely ask personal questions and to gain knowledge without judgement and shame. This led Fathers Matter to pioneer the use of WhatsApp as a user-friendly tool to deliver learning and support using chatbot technology in Chat GPT form.

Fathers Matter Coach is a WhatsApp based platform with over 800 users that provides South African fathers with real-time support and motivation on their fatherhood journeys.  It provides a cost-effective eLearning experience through WhatsApp, using a user-friendly interface and familiar features to ensure ultimate accessibility. It consists of a traditional chatbot with built-in developed content for learning as well as an AI enabled coach element where fathers can ask the coach a private question about fatherhood and their experiences. 

By offering the resources and coaching support on Whatsapp, users in low-resourced communities can have access to an affordable, self-guided experience within a platform that they are already familiar with.

How Dads Can Get Started

Fathers Matter Coach uses a multiple engagement approach to unlock engagement and interest from fathers. Fathers can access a variety of easy-to-follow, bite-sized content that teaches them how to engage with their children. Furthermore, the platform also motivates and provides them with advice on how to navigate their challenges. Resources include tip sheets for different age groups to help dads be positive, active and present in their children’s lives at all ages and stages of life. It also imparts crucial knowledge about how to relate and connect with their child in their first 1000 days and beyond, as they grow from toddler stage into adulthood. 

Fathers also receive reminders and notifications that aim to check-in with them to affirm their experiences and motivate them to keep going and share their struggles. 

Fathers can sign up by registering on WhatsApp and typing “Hi” to 060 058 2107 or following the link WhatsApp Group for Fathers – Fathers Matter (heartlines.org.za)

Involving fathers in the early learning process of a child is advantageous for children’s growth and development. Our initial investment in Fathers Matter ECD and the development of the toolkit content has been able to scale beyond our involvement through partner platforms as part of the long-term broader Fathers Matter and Heartlines communities. 

The support of Innovation Edge has allowed us to start the Fathers Matter ECD project, which equips ECD Practitioners to help male caregivers become more involved in their children’s early learning journey. The collaborative way in which Innovation Edge partners, makes room for us to have an iterative, problem-solving approach, which is crucial. We have also benefited from the training events at which there are also great opportunities for networking with like-minded organisations. We appreciate Innovation Edge’s (Nonku) efforts to understand the context within which we work, and the team’s willingness to help us tackle the challenges that we face in implementing our project.” Simone Gregor, Fathers Matters ECD Project Lead. 

Author: Lerato Kau – Communications Analyst at Innovation Edge