Case Study (Young Fathers): Providing Support for Teenage Dads

19 June 2007

What: Dedicated teenage dads worker
Who: Education Leeds – Health Initiatives Team
Where: Schools across the city
When: Since 2004

John May is a specialist learning mentor working with school age fathers, and older teenage dads whose children’s mothers are still at school, across Leeds. In post since 2004, initially funded by Sure Start Plus ,Connexions and Education Leeds he spends 50% of his week working with teenage fathers. For the rest of his week he does prevention work through his role as a sex and relationships education worker within schools.

Removing barriers

John’s role is to remove barriers to education which often involves empowering the young man to successfully make the transition to becoming a father . The young dads-to-be are referred to him mainly by schools and by the local teenage pregnancy midwife and also by other team members at Education Leeds who work as learning mentors to the mothers of the young men’s children. Access to the dads is relatively straightforward, assuming the young mum is willing to name the young man in question. The midwife now asks for the father’s details as one of her standard questions, and John has produced a leaflet for dads, which the midwife or mentor gives to the mother in the hope that she will pass it on. Mean while schools in Leeds refer dads as a matter of course just as they do with the school age mums.

Support for the dads starts with a preliminary meeting with the school to look at the timetable and any issues that arise from this are followed up and monitored to make sure the dads are ok and attending classes. Some dads require in-depth support, including liaison with families and a range of agencies. Many young dads choose to attend the weekly group that John runs after school.

The problems faced by many of the young men can be severe – many are not fully engaged with education at the time of referral and John works with the schools to help get them back on track. But although the stereotype of a teenage dad is that of a feckless youth who bolts the moment the pregnancy test strip turns blue – if not before – John says that in reality ‘the many of the young men that I work with will stick with the baby and try their best to get on with the mother –often they need additional support to do that , especially in the early stages.

Tackling the disincentives to active fatherhood

The dads often face negativity from the mothers family, and sometimes from the mother and evan from their own parents and peer group – as well as from some professionals. ‘Especially if they’ve had knocks throughout their lives, it can seem a lot easier to just walk away,’ says John.

There can also be a built-in disincentive for young dads to stick around, he adds, citing the example of a young dad whose relationship with his partner broke down partly as a result of them living apart after leaving school in order to avoid having their state benefits cut.

John’s approach when a young dad is referred to him is to arrange a meeting, usually in a school if not then in a neutral setting like a café or burger bar, and ‘let them do all the talking’, rather than go to them with a pre-determined set of proposals or options. At this stage his goal is to make clear to the dad that he is not the only person this has ever happened to, and that he has choices about how to react to the situation. He also talks about education and generally the young men are keen to do well so they can provide for their young child.

The period before the birth is often the rockiest in terms of the couple’s relationship, John says, as the mother and her family come to terms with what is happening, and the young dad himself can at this point feel excluded. Issues like who the mother or mother’s family wants to have in the delivery room can take on huge significance, for example.

Wide-ranging support

The team offers the young dads whatever help they need to improve their prospects – both in terms of their education, future career, and of their role as a parent. A range of parenting training is available from the team’s specialist nursery nurses (see box) and on a basic level John feels one of the most important things he can give his clients is respect. He also tries to put across the key message that ‘just because a relationship doesn’t work out that does not make you a bad father’.

Dealing as he does with a hitherto hidden client group, it is hard to gauge the level of demand for services for young fathers in a large city like Leeds.. Last year his caseload rose from 13 (in 2004-05) to 24 due to better referrals by schools and agencies; he cannot predict how many fathers he will deal with during 2006-07, but as time goes on and his work becomes more established John is confident that the majority of school age fathers will be referred to him for support. However John says that services for older teenage fathers are as yet underdeveloped. . An important part of John’s role is to feed back into the local Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood Partnership with lessons learned about work with teenage dads that can further inform the development of local services.

As with many other types of father work, outcomes can be difficult to assess, but John cites the example of one 16-year-old dad who chose to become the main responsibility for the care of his child for five days a week, so his partner could concentrate on her final year of GCSE courses. Supported by Care to Learn childcare funding, he continued his education at a different school with an onsite baby room – all this during a difficult time when his parents, with whom he was living, moved house several times – and he is now starting work on the Entry 2 Employment programme.

John’s ideas for parenting sessions for teenage dads:

  • ‘Empathy belly’, run by midwives
  • Planning the baby bag
  • Baby quizzes
  • Sessions with other teenage dads who act as ‘peer educators’
  • Visit to Santa’s Grotto or other visits to get used to being seen out in public with the baby
  • Choosing a nursery Q&As, run by childcare worker
  • Baby massage
  • Healthy eating – making baby food, smoothies etc
  • Sessions by drugs and alcohol advisors
  • Sexual health advice
  • Library visit and ‘book bags’ to encourage reading with children
  • Making mothers’ and fathers’ day cards
  • Careers advice
  • Swimming sessions
  • End of year barbeque, including health and safety/food hygiene advice.

Contact: John May, tel 0113 395 1215.

Please note: The nature of voluntary and community sector funding, and the often crucial role of individuals in creating and sustaining projects, means that case studies described on this website may have changed substantially since time or writing or may no longer be in existence. Nevertheless, each offers insights and learning opportunities relevant to current practitioners.

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