Father Embracing Change: The Impact of IYCF Counseling on Children’s Well-Being in Borno State

Fathers Embracing Change: The Impact of IYCF Counseling on Children’s Well-Being in Borno State


Mallam Abba Yusuf, a resident of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Wajare, Banki, a prominent commercial border town in Northeast Nigeria’s Borno State, challenged the cultural expectation that only women should care for sick children. He took his sick daughter to the hospital, breaking societal norms regarding caregiving and accessing essential services.

Since the humanitarian crisis began in 2009, the nutritional situation in northeast Nigeria has sharply declined. Factors such as violent conflict, soaring food prices, poor harvests, and disease outbreaks have forced many people to leave their homes and struggle to obtain sufficient nutrition. As a result, cases of undernutrition have surged in the region.

Zara, his 30-month-old daughter’s illness began with acute watery diarrhea which led to moderate malnutrition: “When Zara fell sick, I took her to FHI 360 clinic for support, I was given some medications, there I met a nutrition father to father support group promoter who guided me through the available nutrition services. He counseled me on how I can contribute to the health and nutrition of my family even in the presence of my wife”.

Mallam Abba Yusuf and his daughter, Zara. Photo credit: Yakubu Fwangshak/FHI 360

Following the conversation with the support group promoter, Abba proceeded to take Zara to the FHI 360 nutrition program site to access nutrition services:
“I took Zara to the FHI 360 Targeted Supplementary Feeding Program (TSFP) site, they screened and enrolled her, gave us some Ready to Supplementary Food (RUSF) sachets, and educated me on how to use it to improve her nutritional status. Since then, I used to come for weekly follow-up consultations and RUSF reception, the program not only addressed her nutritional needs but also became a learning opportunity for me and my family”.

The nutrition promoter also encouraged Abba to join the Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) Father to Father support group. The group contains about 8-15 fathers who participate in activities that encourage fathers to support mothers and provide optimal nutrition in their households. Topics discussed during the meetings include hygiene, early initiation to breastfeeding, and maternal nutrition.
“At the support group meeting point, we shared experiences as fellow fathers, breaking through cultural barriers and dispelling myths surrounding child nutrition, this built my confidence to take over my children’s health concerns” explains Abba.

Men in Borno State are considered decision-makers in the family therefore, they play a significant role on maternal and child well-being. The results of a 2022 analysis conducted by FHI 360 and the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) at the USAID in Borno State reveal that households where fathers actively engaged in group activities consistently provided support to mothers during pregnancy and adhered to recommended practices for feeding infants and young children.

Currently, FHI 360 through the USAID-funded Strengthening Humanitarian Response and Building Community Resilience in Northeast Nigeria (NE-CORE) Project has established 348 father-to-father support groups across project locations: Bama, Damasak, and Ngala LGAs of Borno State. This initiative has fostered behavioral change among fathers in communities to be actively involved in the well-being of their spouses and children as shown by Abba.
“Fathers are the providers for the families, I encourage them to join the father-to-father support groups to learn more of their roles and support more”, Abba advised.

A picture of Mallam Abba Yusuf, Zara, and FHI 360 staff during a home visit. Photo credit: Rifkatu Papka, fhi360.

Written by: Yakubu Fwangshak, Wachikma Mshelia