Swedish Child Health Centers’ Built Environment: Do They Include Fathers?

Swedish child health centers have historically been a place for new mothers and children. We assessed 31 child health centers’ waiting rooms to see the extent to which they included images of mothers, fathers, and children. 75% did not include fathers…at all. Read the full article here.

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Background: Sweden is trying to create a gender equal country and around 97% of all families in Sweden visit the child health centers for routine check-ups, vaccinations, to monitor their child’s growth and development, and to receive parenting advice, either for their specific child’s problems or via parenting groups.

Study Design:Prior to the study, we defined what constituted a mother, father, and/or child environment (or any combination thereof).

 

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Note: None of the environments were father-mother, father-child, or father centered, so those definitions have been removed.

I then visited and took pictures of 31 child health centers throughout Sweden. I visited centers in rich and poor neighborhoods, urban and rural areas, and private and public child health centers.

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Pictures were taken of everything in their waiting room, magazine titles were written down, and all pamphlets that could be handed out to parents were collected.

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I then met up with two co-researchers, where we independently viewed the waiting room via the pictures and samples to determine if that space included the mother, father, and/or child.

The waiting room was determined to be mother, father, and/or child centered as long as at least 25% of the space consisted of that individual; leaving the last 25% to be aimed at any or all of these types of individuals (neutral items [e.g. abstract art, pictures of nature] did not count for or against any individual family member).

The messages on the bulletin boards were broken down using manifest and latent analysis using semiotic visual analysis.

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The magazine readership was sought out

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Results

31 Child Health Centers

  • 12 = Mother-Child Centered
  • 8  = Family-Centered
  • 6  = Child-Centered
  • 2  = Women-Centered
  • 3  = Neutral

The most common waiting room had lots of items for mothers (e.g. images of mothers, magazines that mothers typically read) and toys and books for children, as well as images of children, but very little or nothing for fathers.

In fact, only one category, family-centered, included fathers, while the rest were composed of mothers and/or children.

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Observations

We also observed parents, mothers and fathers, visiting the child health centers to see what they did while in the waiting room–read books, talk on their cell phone, interact with their child, talk with each other….just sit in their chair.

Mothers’ behavior did not change between environments, but fathers were more likely to play with their child and read the brochures/pamphlets if they were in a non-women centered environment (e.g. either family centered or child centered).

Conclusions: People are affected by their environments–people read in libraries, party at concerts, act posh at fine dining establishments. They don’t typically do the reverse (read at concerts and party in libraries).

The child health centers are no different. Their built environment sends messages on who’s welcomed and how they should act.

To further promote involved fathering in child health, the child health centers should rebuild their environments to be more inclusive of fathers.

To help ensure an inclusive waiting room (for all types of people), we created (in Swedish) a checklist they can use!!!

Click here or on the picture to see the full checklist.

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