Father involvement

Jessica Ball (Professor, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria)

Ron Tsaskiy George, M.Ed. (1945-2021) away)
Candice Manahan, M.Sc.
Leroy Joe, Lil'wat Nation

Lil'wat Nation, Mount Currie, B.C. - Pqusnalhcw Child Care Centre
Terrace Park Centre Dad's Group
Esketemc Aboriginal Head Start Program
Prince George Native Friendship Centre, B.C. - Aboriginal Head Start

Project background

Positive father involvement is a matter of gender equality in family life, and an important contribution to children’s health, development, and academic success. Most fathers deeply value their role and want to be involved co-parents, yet they often receive little help as they work towards this goal. Despite going into parenthood with every good intention, many men struggle with the gap between the kind of parent they hope to be and the kind of parent they are supported to be. This gap is created in no small part by a veritable tsunami of social forces that act to portray fathers as less capable, important, and willing caregivers. Social support for positive father involvement has not kept pace with changes in men’s hopes to be caring, involved fathers.

A particular focus for this project has been understanding, outreach, and support for Indigenous fathers. Indigenous fathers are under-represented in demographic, social, educational, and health surveys. They are similarly left out in the delivery of parenting and family support programs, child and family development, and child welfare. Yet they are an important stakeholder group and an often untapped resource for Indigenous children and youth. Low participation of Indigenous fathers in outreach efforts and programs for children is common. Requests from practitioners in Indigenous community agencies, especially in early childhood programs such as Aboriginal Head Start, provided impetus for a series of initiatives within ECDIP to explore Indigenous fathers' experiences. The ECDIP team receives countless calls from Indigenous fathers volunteering to be involved in studies of their experiences of fatherhood, in the words of one father: "Just to be able to tell our stories. To shine some light on the struggle that some of us Aboriginal men have to learn what it means to be fathers and how to stay connected with our children."
aboriginal fathers

Project goal

The goal of this project area is to open up Indigenous fatherhood as a new area of inquiry, community action, and policy reform.

A networked approach

This project area began with the first national study of father involvement in Canada, conducted from 2003 to 2009. It was a nationally networked project led by Dr. Kerry Daly at the University of Guelph, Ontario. The study involved over 50 community agencies and many hundreds of fathers. The project explored fatherhood in seven Canadian populations: Indigenous Fathers, New Fathers, Young Fathers, Immigrant and Refugee Fathers, Gay Fathers, Divorced Fathers, Fathers of Children with Special Needs. This national study provided the means for Jessica Ball to undertake the first research study in Canada about Indigenous fathers, conducted in partnership with two First Nations and two Indigenous-serving community agencies in B.C.

Project outcomes

Findings of the national study and related studies about father involvement in Canada have been captured in an edited volume (Ball & Daly, 2013).  With regards to Indigenous fathers, this path-seeking project highlighted challenges for many Indigenous fathers to maintain connections to their children and to feel confident in a fathering role. While expressing a desire for more involvement with their children, many First Nations and Métis fathers identified several barriers: perceived role ambiguity; perceived bias toward mothers' involvement in infant, childcare, and parenting programs and services; interruptions in contact with children due to fathers' participation in work on trap lines or fishing boats far from home; residential treatment programs or incarceration that disrupt connections with children; and their own doubts about being suitable role models for their children. Residential school attendance and secondary residential school effects, combined with ongoing colonial policies and social discrimination, figured prominently in many Indigenous men's accounts of their experiences of being fathers.

This project area has brought attention to the needs and goals of Indigenous fathers in the partnering communities, in the fields of early childhood education, and child and youth care in Canada as well as internationally.

Impacts of completed and ongoing research and knowledge mobilization in this project area include:

  • A deeper and broader research-based understanding of the diversity, goals, and needs of fathers in Canada and in other countries
  • Guidelines for outreach, support, and education for fathers, particularly those whose marginalization has been manufactured by dominant cultural policies and mothercentric service orientations
  • Steps that practitioners can take to create spaces and opportunities in community-based programs for fathers to be involved in meaningful and rewarding ways with their children
  • Production and disseminations of training resources, advocacy materials, and recommendations for service providers
  • Support for community service policies and recommended policy reforms at provincial, territorial, and national levels to promote positive father involvement.

By increasing understanding of fathers' involvement and their potentially positive contributions to the wellness of their children and families, this project area is achieving the mission of Early Childhood Development Intercultural Partnerships to effect social change and increase equitable opportunities for children's development, education, and wellness.


Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada: Community-University Research Alliance Program
British Columbia Ministry for Children and Family Development through the Human Early Learning Partnership

Indigenous fathers’ involvement & community programs

Jessica Ball holding program materials
Documentary DVD
Fatherhood: Indigenous Men’s Journeys
(40 min. with 16 pg. screening guide)
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View all reports and resources related to this project.