Parenting training for Somali fathers

15 April 2005


This parenting course for Somali fathers – run in by the ‘Peace of Mind’ project in North London during 2004, and funded by the Children’s Fund – was set up because of it was felt that Somali fathers in the UK are increasingly emotionally or physically absent from their families. An investigation by Nina Stevens into the mental health of Somali communities in Sheffield in 1996 had found that 86% were experiencing significant psychological problems. The outbreak of the Civil War in Somalia in 1988 had led to the settling of many refugees in Britain, and the Community was found to be one of the most disadvantaged in health, education, employment and housing – and lacking representation and deep awareness of the difficulties faced by many of its members.

Engaging Somali fathers was not easy. Traditional publicity was supported by extensive personal engagement and outreach, with the project leader making personal contact with individual fathers in the places they were most likely to visit: mosque, restaurants, coffee shops, halal butchers. Negotiating the most suitable time and place for meetings was also important. Eventually a local community centre venue was chosen at the fathers’ preferred time (Saturday mornings) with sixteen fathers recruited to begin the parenting course as an all-male group.

The programme

The programme chosen was the Race Equality Unit’s 13-week Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities parenting course which is particularly relevant to work with ethnic minority families, and has the following five components:
• Cultural and spiritual
• Enhancing relationships
• Positive discipline
• Rites of passages
• Community involvement
Each session lasts for three hours, and the programme consists of presentation, tasks and homework.

The aim of the project was to help fathers feel more confident about raising their children in the West, and to meet with each other to share experiences of life in the UK. Another important aim was to increase their capacity to influence their community and enhance their opportunities for employment

In this training, three themes emerged:

Parental relationships
The changing parental relationship was one of the key issues that concerned the fathers. Coming from traditional family structures where the father is head of the household the raised issues that were challenging them. These included: loss of control of the family and ability to economically provide for them, consequent loss of respect from both wife and children, disconnection emotionally from their children and loss of identity resulting in hopelessness.

Communication with children
The impact of living within increasingly differing cultural norms between parents and children greatly impacted on the fathers. Being used to a cultural norm where obedience was expected from children they found communication with them was difficult, and often resulted in anger. Finding alternative methods discipline away from physical punishment was particularly challenging and effort was put into encouraging other disciplining methods. Overall there was a sense of loss of control and concern over lifestyle choices.

Community identity
Fathers identified a strong sense of identity while they were in Somalia, through clans. A difficulty in adjusting to different educational experiences and cultural lifestyles was disorientating and often meant that they were not able to support their children. Changing family structures was also difficult to come to terms with, so that they often tried to recreate in Britain what they had left behind.


Of the 12 fathers who attended the group from the beginning, 2 were able actively to seek and find jobs; and 7 received certificates of attendance which it was hoped will increase their confidence in parenting their children

The course evaluation indicated that the fathers had felt the course had helped them in:
• raising an oriental child in western culture,
• providing the opportunity to exchange views with other fathers
• developing more patience in listening to their children; and
• establishing community building tools and techniques.

Abdisamad Ghelle,
Peace of Mind Project
Tavistock Clinic, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA

Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities
(Parenting Course)

The Shucan Project
(Somali Special Needs Scheme)

Ocean Somali Community Association (Tower Hamlets)
Activities include: education in study support; home school liaising support; ESOL; parental training; employment training; advice and guidance; youth work; sports and community