Dunedin course gives men confidence to be good dads

Mike Tonks edited

Dunedin Catholic Social Services is looking at bringing their highly successful parenting course for fathers, Game On, to other parts of the country. 

The course, which had been running in the diocese for the past 12 years, was conceptualised by CSS director Mike Tonks.

Mr Tonks said it is not so much a course as it is a way of engaging men about parenting, “so that we can learn from each other and have the confidence to be good dads”.

“We have a fairly simple plan. We start, first, with thinking about our kids and what we actually want for our kids when they grow up,” he explained.

“By doing that, we start to recognise the task that we have to attend [to]. We follow that on with doing some thinking about what we as dads need to do to help our kids achieve these things. Then, we plan things going forward,” he added.

Mr Tonks said he developed this course as a response Dunedin course gives men confidence to be good dads to “the huge gap in the community supports for fathers”.

“CSS has been delivering services to the Dunedin and Otago/Southland community for 50 years. A lot of this work was about helping families, but we realised that the men were missing out. The previous director saw this need and appointed me to develop and run
this course,” he said.

Since then, some 600 men have come through the course and feedback has been very positive. One said he was “better in dealing with the kids and using ideas that have been discussed” while another said he relaxed a little more and “yell[s] less”.

Most of the men attending were referred to the course through community agencies such as Oranga Tamariki, Family Court and others. The course is recognised as one that makes a difference in men’s lives and makes a positive change for children.

“Sometimes, things happen because men have been the ones who acted badly and we’re not going to justify anybody’s bad behaviour in any way. They don’t get a free pass out of that,” Mr Tonks said.

“But it’s about time we start recognising that the services haven’t been there for them to actually get support. We want to support the dads so that they can be great dads, great partners and great men.”

Funding is always a challenge for providers of community services.

Mr Tonks said funds are needed to be able to get a male social worker who can help the men “outside the course navigate all the complexities of the system they are involved in and any difficulties they have got into”.

“If we take this to other communities, we would need to be able to provide support around running the programme, training facilitators, and finding the materials to ensure that it [the programme] continues its good effect on the communities,” he said.

He said other communities who would pick up the programme would need to build relationships with local agencies and churches who might support people who would come along to it.

Mr Tonks said the next course in Dunedin would be on October 24. It costs $75 per person but if a participant cannot afford the fee, they do not force him to pay. The course costs more than that but “that is a reasonable cost people might afford”.

“We do need community funding to continue to provide this service,” he said.

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Rowena Orejana

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