Case Study (Muslim Fathers): Helping South Asian Men Embrace Their Role As Fathers

21 August 2007

What: The Abiwiyyat Ki Ahmiyyat (Importance of Fatherhood) Project
Who: Children’s Society LEAP project
Where: Bradford
When: Since 2002

White British men can find being a father a tough enough challenge, but for their counterparts from minority ethnic groups, making a success of the role can prove an even steeper uphill climb.

In Bradford, mainstream children’s agencies were finding it hard to engage with high concentrations of South Asian fathers, leading The Children’s Society to set up the Abiwiyyat Ki Ahmiyyat project, as part of its Listening, Empowering, Advocacy and Participation programme, in December 2002.

The project, which aims to support dads by overcoming social, cultural and language barriers, has been based at Barkerend Children’s Centre since 2005 and is run by a full-time project worker, Syed Razwan and his part-time colleague Mohammed Yousuf.

Services range from nine-week parenting programmes and one-off workshops delivered both in English and in Urdu and Punjabi, to drop-in ‘dads and kids’ sessions, weekend activities and even a residential weekend at an activity centre in nearby Keighley.

Parenting programmes cover cultural/spiritual issues; enhancing relationships; positive discipline; rites of passage; and community involvement. One-off workshops, suggested by dads, have looked at issues including communication with disabled children; coping with challenging behaviour; and being a positive role model.

Five or six dads attend each weekly drop-in session, and around 20 go to each weekend activity session – these have included football, hockey, cricket, baking, arts and crafts and woodwork.

Last year, 12 dads completed the community sports leader award programme organised through Bradford Sports Action Zone, undergoing 20 hours of workshops including first aid and child protection training, and 10 hours’ volunteering, designed to enable them to run safe play activities with local children. Two of the men have gone on to take up posts as primary school classroom assistants – one specialising in physical education.

The group runs Easter and summer play schemes at local schools, and is piloting a literacy project with year 8 and 9 children and their fathers. It is also part of the Genetic Interest Group – a national alliance of patient organisations which support families affected by genetic disorders – and offers one-to-one support to South Asian dads with disabled children.

Recognising exclusion

Syed says engaging successfully with South Asian dads requires a clear recognition of how excluded they can feel from what many white English father workers might consider “normal” aspects of British culture.

‘Many of the dads have barely left the area they live in, let alone been outside Bradford, and especially if they don’t have good English they can lack confidence about going to new places,’ he says.

‘We once had a day out to Alphabet Zoo, a local soft play centre and café, and if the dads were even aware that it existed – and many weren’t – they just assumed it was for rich white people, and couldn’t believe it cost less than £3 for an hour’s play session.’

Another big problem is the difficulty of bringing up children caught between two cultures, and Syed says the residential weekend was especially fruitful in this respect because the participants experienced subtle challenges to their traditional father/child roles.

‘Because the kids have integrated more as a result of going to English schools and doing stuff through local networks, they were much better equipped to deal with what was thrown at them – like having a go at canoeing and outdoor activities, and messing about in Sumo wrestling suits.

‘A lot of them grew in confidence and were helping their dads cope with these new experiences. At the same time the men had to take responsibility for things like making sure the children were properly dressed, making the beds, preparing lunch and getting the kids to bed when they were really hyped up – the kinds of practical parental stuff their wives would normally do,’ says Syed.

‘In the evenings we had some really useful discussions about what it’s like to be a dad in Britain these days, and how that feels when you come at it from a completely different culture.’

Recruiting and retaining clients

The Abiwiyyat Ki Ahmiyyat project has found that recruiting and retaining clients can be a big challenge. When the group moved to the bigger children’s centre where it is currently housed, attendance dropped off dramatically for around nine months, and Syed puts this down largely to the predominance of female staff at the new centre, which the dads found off-putting.

Several staff from local Sure Starts have since shadowed the project team, and have risen to the challenge of making services more male-friendly.

The group advertises through community centres and mosques and hears from many dads via Sure Start workers and health professionals.

Syed and Mohammed meet with an advisory board of dads and professionals, once every six to eight weeks. Future plans more work with the extended schools programme; and a project to help tackle the high level of exclusions among South Asian boys at secondary school level.

Contact: The Children’s Society LEAP project email or telephone 0113 236 3900.

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