About the project

WHAT’S THE POINT?

There’s not a lot out there that speaks directly to dads. SMS4dads supports men in their role as fathers and increases awareness of their influence on baby’s brain development

THE OUTCOMES

SMS4dads helps fathers understand and connect with their baby and partner. It also checks in on their wellbeing and offers professional support if needed

WE’RE TALKING TO YOU

There are more than 300,000 babies born in Australia each year. That’s a whole lot of new dads navigating the challenges of parenthood.

Research shows that dads are hard to reach in parenting education and their engagement with health services isn’t great.

 

SMS4dads is available for new dads to join up and receive text messages and support straight to their phones from 12 weeks into a pregnancy and throughout the first year of parenthood.

The messages have been developed by health professionals and researchers. The tone or “voice” of SMS4dads is designed to be friendly, positive and real.

We are encouraging Health Workers and organisations to let dads know about SMS4dads. This helps them offer a direct service especially for dads – a service that is free, non-commercial and non-intrusive.

BEHIND THE SCENES

SMS4dads was developed by a team headed by Richard Fletcher, Assoc. Professor at The University of Newcastle. Having worked on national and international fatherhood research for over 30 years, Richard knows all too well that dads are missing out on important health services, messages and education.

Because most family and parenting services are aimed at mums, they don’t engage directly with dads or provide specific materials and resources for them.

 

After years of pioneering the way health services talk and work with men, SMS4dads was created to speak directly to dads.

SMS4dads delivers child development and parenting support and information to dads via their mobile phones. It’s FREE and is now available to ALL DADS across Australia.

SMS4dads also sends tailored messages to special groups such as;

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dads
  • dads and their partners who have mental health issues
  • and dads and their partners who experience the loss of a baby

 

With Federal Government funding secured in 2021 along with new partnerships with Red Nose, PANDA, Telethon Kids Institute, Australian Indigenous Health Info Net and the National Rural Health Alliance, SMS4dads is set to change the landscape for how we talk with and support dads in the lead up and after the birth of a baby. 

Richard’s research revealed possible long-term negative impacts on the children of dads with mental health issues. Fathers’ depressive symptoms in the first year after the birth predicted behaviour problems in their children years later.

“If dads’ mental health has such a dramatic impact then we need to be screening dads for depression, not just mums,” Richard explains.

In response to these limitations, Richard and his team have designed a smart-phone based program that allows mobile connection for new and expectant dads.

Participants receive texts containing information and links, and self-report their mood. If the mood tracker identifies dads as needing extra support, they will be offered a phone call from a counsellor trained in this area.

Following the success of the pilot of the SMS4dads program, Funding was received to enable a National roll-out.

“When dad’s miss antenatal classes or activities, they also miss out on contact and links to other people.  They may never get the chance to say to anyone, look I’m really stressed,” he points out.

“SMS4dads is a way of bringing dads into the health system and keeping them linked in with services and support,” explains Richard.

Richard Fletcher

Associate Professor, PhD

Richard credits a varied career, a talented and innovative team, and much life experience for affording him the insight needed to address the challenges related to actively engaging dads.

After completing his masters in Medical Science, studying epidemiology, Richard earned his PhD focusing on fathers and attachment.

“Fathers are invisible in many places, and that is endemic. Not because people dislike fathers, but because the system is set up to be focused on mothers.”

Some services and organisations are aware of the need to engage dads, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts.

“When people are challenged about this, they generally want dads involved,” Richard affirms.

“Often, however, they just don’t know how to do it.”

Richard works with health professionals on issues related to fathers, and has delivered many antenatal programs for expectant dads.

He credits his own family with giving him an understanding of the role of fathers needed to make his work relevant.

“I have three daughters and two stepdaughters,”

“My kids would say they taught me just about everything I know and they’d be right. They’ve taught me a lot, and still do.”