Involving fathers across a community – the ‘DIY Dads’ project
WHAT: a community-wide fatherhood initiative
AGENCY: Working with Men (+ local advisory group)
WHEN: 1999-2003 (+ projects ongoing)
WHERE: Lewisham, South London
FUNDING: £125,000 over three years (Family Policy Unit)
DIY DADS was commissioned by Working with Men – a small, established, practice-based agency, which focuses primarily on boys and young men. WWM undertakes action research, and its evaluations are thorough. It aims to develop models of good practice, often backed up by specially-developed resources. In DIY DADS the approach was unashamedly experimental: sustainability was not a primary concern; monitoring and evaluation were. In fact, some of the initiatives have been sustained.
DIY DADS began by ‘getting its purpose clear’1 – asking itself why it wanted to work with fathers in Lewisham. Apart from developing models for an integrated, strategic and localised community initiative, the project was keen, among other things, to promote a positive approach to the father’s role, to maximise fathers’ involvement locally, and to establish where and how to target initiatives to different groups of fathers. DIY dads were aware that, given the local population, many of the fathers most in need of support would be young and/or from African/Caribbean backgrounds.
DIY DADS launched itself on a fact-finding mission – ‘getting its facts straight’2concerning local fathers and the environments in which the work might take place. This was done through nine focus groups of local fathers and three months of consultation with local agencies: DIY DADS never underestimated the degree to which the success of its work would ride on local acceptance and referrals.
‘A number of the agencies questioned us about our approach towards fathers, and our attitudes towards mothers and children. Their concerns were often whether our pro-father approach would mean anti-mother’ remembers Trefor Lloyd, who directed DIY DADS. ‘We also found that some fathers (especially those in conflict with their ex-partners) were looking for us to ‘take their side’.’ All this lead to DIY DADS drafting underpinning principles for its work, partly to dispel suspicion, partly to help all stakeholders (including the team, who would be working on different services in different locations) form a coherent view of where DIY dads was ‘coming from’.
DIY DADS Underpinning Principles included . . .
• Most fathers want to be more involved with their children & may need support, opportunities to develop skills & encouragement to do this.
• Race, culture, religion, masculinities & age all play a part in defining fatherhood for individual men.
• Fathers (including non resident fathers) are important to their children, & children are important to their fathers.
• We will not support individual father’s actions, when they have a harmful effect on children & mothers.
• This work is made necessary by recent & rapid changes in the roles taken by men and women – not because “women are now in charge”, “feminism has gone too far” or “it is time for fathers to take back control of the family”.
Local consultation also helped DIY DADS know where to place its work. Some local sectors l(among them primary schools, nurseries, and criminal justice services) were readier for fathers work than others: by contrast, in general community organisations, interest was pretty low. And while Lewisham had no existing, ongoing work with fathers, the previous five years had seen one-off projects that had ‘left a footprint’. It also became clear that initiatives such as Single Regeneration, City Challenge, Health Action (HAZ) and Education Action Zones (EAZ) had helped to create an infrastructure in parts of the Borough that might support the work, where – for example – organisations already had contact with fathers. All this local fact-finding meant that nothing was duplicated and no previous experience wasted.
An important realization, which had a huge impact on the design of services, was that most DIY DADS initiatives would involve short- or longer-term partnerships with local organizations. Each organisation or sector was found to have a different ‘rationale’ for buying-in to the idea of working with fathers, which DIY DADS was able to develop fruitfully. Some could provide access to fathers and settings for the work, while DIY DADS could complement this by providing expertise and resources, such as workers’ time and advertising/targeting budgets. And straight away it became clear that some groups of fathers were going to be easier to access than others: young fathers the most difficult; African-Caribbean and African fathers particularly willing and interested. .
The first DIY Dads services were launched together on the 5th June 2000, in central Lewisham with an all star cast: Patrick Augustus (author of Baby Father), Joan Ruddock and Harriet Harman (local MPs and Minister) and the Mayor of Lewisham. This was not simply a ‘puff’ event: the publicity it generated began to develop a foundation of trust locally, and supported recruitment.
DIY DADS Services included . . .
• Advice Services
• Sunday Nurseries
• ‘Father Friendly’ Local Awards
• Expectant Fathers Courses
• A campaign and services for Young Fathers
• Fatherhood Preparation Courses (in schools)
• Publications (including a website, fact sheets, a local Guide for fathers)
• Fathers & Son Reading Project
• A Safe Handover Project (for separated parents)
• Sunday Afternoon Nurseries
• Fathers Breakfasts
• A Fathers Day Pack
• Public Meetings, one off sessions, & professional updates
• Action Group on Men in Childcare
Inevitably, with such a broad range of initiatives, some worked, others didn’t. And within those that worked, some worked better than others. All the major initiatives were externally evaluated, and DIY Dads was interested both in what worked (and what didn’t) and why it worked (or didn’t). For example, the Advice Service could have been said to be successful, in that after a relatively slow start it was heavily used, providing individual advice (on the phone and in person – younger fathers much preferred the telephone) on such topics as separation, divorce, contact, court orders, the CSA and housing.
However, the evaluation found that many fathers only contacted the service when they were desperate and already involved in the court system – that is, too late for DIY DADS to provide much more than reassurance and affirmation. Increasingly, DIY DADS moved towards a preventive strategy, such as raising issues like Parental Responsibility before fathers were in dispute about contact – on, for example, the Expectant Fathers’ courses.
Another element in the project was the formation of the DIY DADS ACTION GROUP ON MEN IN CHILDCARE. This was partly designed to help the local childcare partnership reach government targets for the numbers of men employed in childcare. Letters were sent to all Lewisham nurseries asking them about their willingness to accept school-age lads on work experience. The results were passed on to the careers service and written up to highlight some of the barriers stopping young men going into childcare.
Lloyd concludes: ‘Over the period of this project, we delivered 12 major initiatives and evaluated four. We think that at least six have been successful, and the learning from them all contributes to our general conclusions.’
The full DIY Dads report, and other papers, materials and evaluation reports can be obtained from:
‘Step 1’ of Fathers’ Direct’s process for developing father-friendly work – see WORKING WITH FATHERS: a guide for everyone working with families.
‘Step 2’ of Fathers’ Direct’s process for developing father-friendly work – see WORKING WITH FATHERS: a guide for everyone working with families.