Case study: Intensive support for young dads-to-be

14 May 2009

What: Modular course for young expectant fathers
Who: U-Too Not-for-Profit Company
Where: Swindon
When: Since 2004

Help and advice for young mothers-to-be is easy to come by. Young fathers-to-be, however, are routinely left by the wayside – and are unfairly branded as uninterested and uninformed.

But there are avenues of proactive help to be found, such as Swindon-based not-for-profit company, U-Too. In 2002, when U-Too started running courses to help young mums-to-be to cope with pregnancy and life beyond, it quickly became apparent that there was a gap in terms of what was provided for their partners.

Mike White, who has run the young fathers-to-be course at U-Too since 2004 says: “I really don’t understand why people have negative assumptions about young dads. It puzzles me. Whether it’s something to do with the way young dads are presented in the popular press … that they sow a seed and run away? But that’s not true of a significant number of them.

“The girls on the young mothers-to-be courses queried why there wasn’t anything for their partners. Part of the problem is there has always been a focus on maternity services. Along the way, clearly something’s been left out, and the dads do feel left out.”

Finding dads…and finding out what they want

Another difficulty, explains Mike, is that many potentially helpful organisations have trouble identifying young fathers – usually because they are attempting to target them once their babies have been born, which he believes is too late. To combat this, U-Too decided to access young fathers-to-be through their partners – a logical route.

U-Too applied for, and won, a European Social Fund (ESF) co-finance contract to run an outreach young dads-to-be programme in Swindon. “We weren’t sure whether dads-to-be would be prepared to do a course involving lots of writing,” says Mike. So one of his colleagues contacted a young men’s worker, Paul Hopkins, in Gloucester and asked him to check possible course content with the men he was working with. “They drew up a list of what they thought would be useful on the course,” recalls Mike.

“My colleague then wrote the course because the young-dads-to-be liked what their partners were doing and wanted something similar. The course is non-accredited and not time-limited, but that’s not a problem because it’s become a means of developing a much longer-term therapeutic relationship with both partners, not just a means of delivering information.”

Promoting the course

The modular course includes advice and information on: fathers’ roles and why dads matter; preparing for the birth; the newborn; feeding; hygiene; safety; health matters; rights, roles and responsibilities; and planning for the future.

Despite a lack of promotion due to constraints on resources, U-Too receives more than enough referrals from young mums-to-be, Connexions, Youth Offending Teams, midwives, hostel workers, and some young dads recommend friends.

Working towards accreditation

Mike is hoping to secure accreditation for the course. He has identified the Open College Network as a possibility though he admits that it is difficult to marry all of the aspects that he feels are most important with the OCN’s course framework.

“It’s like fitting a square peg into a round hole,” he says. “It would be much better to write our own course from scratch and get it accredited but that is quite a long process.”

U-Too already has a working relationship with the OCN because, back in August 2004, U-Too led a two-year European Union learning partnership, with partners in Eire, Hungary and Malta. The partners developed materials and resources for the delivery of an OCN Personal Budgeting & Money Management Progression Unit to be used in all four partner countries. The course is offered as a progression opportunity to both young mums and dads.

Outcomes from the course

So what do the young men gain from U-Too’s course? Mike says that the dads end up feeling better about themselves – and their partners end up feeling better about them. Both sets of parents, if the young dads are still in touch with them, also find their relationships often become more positive.

Says Mike: “They learn stuff. They just feel that they want to be responsible and they do start to feel it, I think. They increase their self-esteem. Most of them struggle with their relationships. Many of them come from difficult family backgrounds and so their experience of relationships can be very negative. They carry a lot of anger with them. Their partners often come from similar backgrounds, too, and their relationships are always under pressure.

“What some of them tell me is that if it wasn’t for my involvement they wouldn’t still be together. Two guys have told me that quite explicitly but they are still with their partners. I wonder how long it is going to last – I can’t help them sustain a relationship that is going to break up but I can get them to a point where they take it for granted that they don’t need to lose contact with their children.

“A lot of the guys I work with don’t trust adults particularly – they have been let down by their parents; many leave school early or without any meaningful qualifications, and they don’t have a good relationship with authority. So they may see a meeting with a doctor or midwife and not ask questions – just because. Professionals say ‘they should ask’, but, well, that’s the problem – they don’t because that’s how they are. People need to think of ways to include them.”

The Dads Matter Too DVD

The young dads-to-be and dads who have benefited from U-Too’s work were so inspired by the course and their own drive to underline their importance in their children’s lives that they decided to make a film about their experiences. They produced a DVD, called Dads Matter Too, to get their message across. The DVD is available in the Fatherhood Institute’s ‘Invisible Fathers’ resource pack.

The DVD’s main feature shows couples and young fathers being interviewed about their perceptions of fatherhood – and other people’s impressions of them. It also covers their experiences within the health service, which they feel can neglect them, and talks about the practicalities and realities – good and bad – of being young fathers.

The impact of the film

U-Too was awarded funding from the Lottery Big Boost through The Prince’s Trust, the Wiltshire Young People’s Opportunity Fund and Wiltshire SureStart. This funding enabled the dads to pay for the filmmaking, and baby first aid and baby massage courses, which were also filmed and are included on the DVD. Participants, including some of the young dads’ partners, gained Emergency Treatments certificates and nine of them went on to gain Bronze Arts Awards as a result of their participation in the film and a series of subsequent technical workshops. The film went on to win The Prince’s Trust South West Region Community Impact Award in November 2008.

Mike is understandably proud of the film and those who were behind its inception and production. He says: “It involved a considerable amount of work. Initially one of the young fathers had been involved in a film about a housing association and said U-Too should be making its own film. They drove it and a lot of its content, which is why it is so powerful.

“What’s come out of the film is that so many people are trying to find these guys and try and work with them, which is why I will quite happily go and talk to people about it.

“We are looking at the young mums and the young dads and have been doing work with both for several years. I wouldn’t be doing the work we do without the young mums. That’s what I try to say to people: if you are working with young mums-to-be, you should be working with their partners. I’m looking at a particularly disadvantaged group of young fathers-to-be and there are plenty of them. You can’t expect to work with them once they are fathers – it’s a much harder job.”

For more details about the Dads Matter Too project click here.

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