Involving young fathers in maternity services

25 April 2005

Maternity staff need training if they are to include young dads

A report from Bristol University has found that young fathers who really want to be involved in the process of pregnancy and birth and play a part in their children’s lives are being frozen out by health visitors and maternity staff. There were ‘examples of good practice’, but the young dads were mostly ignored, marginalised or made uncomfortable by services, despite their desire for information, advice and inclusion.

Just over half the young men attended most clinic appointments; and even more – 88% – wanted to attend. The substantial minority who had no contact at all with preparatory or advice services were not blithely oblivious to what was going on: they reported significant worries about aspects of the pregnancy and birth. Yet it seems the young men who kept out of the health professionals’ way might have been doing themselves a favour: those that did connect with services were often alienated by the experience, as clinic staff typically talked only to the mother-to-be and did not engage with them at all.

Many of the health professionals had no idea who the father was – even though, nine months down the line, more than 2 out of 3 were still living in the same household as their baby and the young mother. Fifty three percent of the health visitors knew ‘little or nothing about him’ and when Dr Sue Pollock from Bristol University’s School of Policy Studies, and her co-researchers, David Quinton and Jean Golding, looked at the clinics’ ‘booking in’ procedures, they exposed ‘grave lack of information about the father’. In short, as in many perinatal services, even his name usually went unrecorded.

Why so many of the professionals were ‘blanking’ the young dads became clear when the researchers interviewed them: most pre-judged the young men to be ‘useless’ and few saw work with young fathers as central to their task. Nor did they consider the young dad as a ‘resource for childcare’. The young men were ‘depersonalized from the beginning of the pregnancy‘ says Pollock: ‘they were not treated as people with real feelings.’

There is a need (say the researchers) for ‘radical reform’ in the way fathers-to-be and new fathers are treated by perinatal services. An important strategy will be staff training and development: staff often admitted they felt that they ‘lacked the skills to engage with men’.

Read a PDF of a more detailed report of The Transition to Fatherhood in Young Men by David Quinton, Sue Pollock and Jean Golding

A powerpoint presentation on this subject

Available for download here is a presentation by Dr Sue Pollock, Lecturer in Social Work, University of Bristol, called  “Involving young fathers in maternity services”.

The presentation was delivered at the Maternity Services forum at the “Working with Fathers 2005” national conference, held at the Institute of Education on Tuesday 5th April.

This Powerpoint file is downloadable below, under “related documents”.

Involving young fathers in maternity services

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