Dave Owens has a big dream for Kiwi kids.
“I want every New Zealand child to have a great father,” he says.
Inspired by research papers on early intervention with children, he started the Great Fathers Trust back in 2008 and started advocating nationally and locally for dads to have close emotional relationships with their kids.
One paper was from Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, an American who did a cost analysis benefit analysis around intervening in the lives of pre-school children as opposed to when they were adolescents or young adults.
"His work demonstrated that it costs so much less to intervene when they are young and it’s more effective,” Dave says.
“Changing behaviour when they are 16 is attempting to break 16 years of habits. But parents setting a good foundation is much more straightforward and they need to know how important it is.”
The other paper was from New Zealand paediatrician Dr Robin Fancourt, who founded the Brainwave Trust in 1996. She said the every-day experiences of babies and toddlers helped develop their brains and those raised in safe and nurturing environments made crucial cell connections, especially in the first three years.
This information is also in line with research by the TSB Community Trust, which has identified the 0-5 years as most important for children. The Trust has since developed a strategic focus on child and youth wellbeing in Taranaki, targeting the early years, while recognising the importance of the family context in helping to bring about positive change. It has given Great Fathers a $100,000 donation, which will be used for a three-part pilot programme in Taranaki to:
Martin Pepperell has been hired to help with this work and started with Great Fathers earlier this year.
Dave says men have a more significant part to play in those early years than most people think. Children who have great dads involved in their lives from day one, have greater attention spans, more patience, do better at school, especially in reading and maths. Once they leave school, they are far more likely to get a qualification and a job, be more resilient and in a better place to support their whanau.
“Those are really compelling reasons to encourage dads to be involved with their children,” Dave says.
Great Fathers has made a music CD and video as a gift for new dads. He has also presented in antenatal classes to inspire dads to be involved in their children’s lives.
Ordinary men make great fathers, Dave says.
“You don’t have to be a super achiever or be well educated, you just have to pay attention to your kids and it starts really early in a child’s life. It starts as a baby.”