Case Study (Young Fathers): Multi-agency Young Dads Project

3 April 2009
  • What: ‘Da’ – Young Fathers Project
  • Who: Inter-agency project – lead agency First Housing (housing association)
  • Where: Shepherd’s View Young Parents Project, Derry City, Northern Ireland
  • When: Project launched Summer 2007

Young fathers are often considered to be a ‘hard to reach’ group. At a very young age they can feel disengaged and marginalised.

The ‘Da’ (Irish form of ‘Dad’) – Young Fathers Project has been set up to change the lives of children by working with their young fathers.

Darren Boyle, the enthusiastic manager of the project, says that young fathers are often portrayed in a very bad light. The project aims to dispel the myth that young fathers are not interested in bringing up their children and are bad fathers. In fact, the reverse is often true – the young fathers in the project have shown that they are very interested in the welfare of their children and want to be a big part of their lives.

With an imaginative programme aimed at building knowledge, skills and confidence, the project aims to enable young fathers to see that they can make a positive difference to their own children’s lives. There are trips and fun activities for the dads to do with their children – these not only help to build relationships between dads and their children but also to develop pride in their children and confidence in their own parenting skills.

Reaching out through activities

Activities for the fathers include an overnight kayak down the River Foyle. This is not only a team-building and physical activity but also an opportunity for young men to talk about their own histories including the religious divide represented by the river. Another ambitious project is the Belfast marathan – a team of workers and young dads plan to do this in relays. Again, this will not only improve health and build self-belief and personal responsibility, it will also challenge stigmas and present a positive image of young dads.

Reaching out through re-skilling

A major recent initiative is for a group of young fathers to set up their own business – ‘Handy Men’. This project will enable them to share joinery, electrician and other skills, manage their own business, gain qualifications, and prove to themselves and others that they have an important contribution to make.

The beginnings of the ‘Da’ – Young Fathers Project

The ‘Da’ project was set up following a pilot programme and subsequent research carried out by the Western Health Action Zone (HAZ). An inter-agency steering group consisting of statutory, voluntary and community sector organisations made a successful bid to Big Lottery and the project was launched in 2007, led by First Housing. The project is currently working with 29 young fathers aged 15 to 25.

Breaking the cycle

Although the project is aimed at young fathers (and fathers-to-be), ultimately the aim is to improve outcomes for their children. Research shows that young fatherhood is predicted by disadvantage and deprivation:

  • poor life/family experiences with little care or affection shown to them
  • none, poor or ‘low value’ educational achievements
  • therefore no or ‘low value’ employment history and/or prospects
  • criminal experiences – both as victims and as perpetrators
  • health issues – including a significant number of young fathers self-harming and on medication for depression
  • drugs and alcohol misuse – often leading to violence, arrest and conviction
  • housing issues/homelessness.

With such negative prospects, it is not surprising that many young men enter a cycle of poverty, addiction, crime and violence. The ‘Da’ project aims to break this cycle.

Focusing on child outcomes

By focusing on the outcomes for the children project workers can challenge the young fathers on areas of behaviour which may have a direct or indirect impact on their children’s lives. A good example is time-keeping – if a young dad is late for a meeting with a worker, the likelihood is that he will also be late for his child. Staff can introduce the importance of ‘keeping your word’ and other issues such as alcohol/drug misuse or anger management by talking to young fathers about whether this is the image they want their children to have of them. Staff are honest, direct and straight-talking but at the same time show that they are respectful, supportive, caring and concerned.

Developing confidence and life skills

An inspired programme of courses and events includes many different options for young fathers:

• ‘Get a life’ – a personal development and life skills programme including: o drugs and alcohol
o personal hygiene and body image
o emotional health and wellbeing
o sexual health
o communication skills.

• ‘Dads n babs’ – a parenting programme to explore fatherhood and develop parenting skills including:
o positive male images – what is it to be a man, father, young father?
o communication skills
o child development
o child protection, first aid and health and safety in the home
o cooking and nutrition
o legal rights
o playing with children.

• ‘Tools for change’ – a skills development and maintenance programme including:
o driving theory
o interview skills
o budgeting
o business management skills.

Support over child access

One of the key issues for young fathers is gaining access to their children. A young dad is often kept away from his child by the child’s mother and her family because they assume not only that he won’t be interested but also that he will be a poor father. This feeling of being excluded may be reinforced by health and other professionals who may also assume he doesn’t want to be involved, especially if he is not living with the mother. In fact, research shows that young fathers are much more keen to be involved in their children than is believed. For many young men, having a child is an important motivator for change.

Staff work directly with young fathers to address key issues which may be preventing them from gaining access to their children. This may involve challenging them to look at their lifestyles, relationships and friendships. So the young men are often in a period of transition, trying to stay out of or away from trouble. Given the right support, the project has found that they do take responsibility and can get involved in their children’s lives.

One young father describes how the project has not only provided him with accommodation to make access to his son possible (without an address a young father cannot apply to court for access to their child) but has also mediated to ensure that a social worker was appointed quickly and access to his son has therefore been speeded up by six weeks.

The project also runs an exciting programme of trips and activities for young dads and their children including swimming, walks, allotments, ‘kidzplay’ (playtime for dads and children), tennis and football, trips to the beach, road safety and cycling, homework clubs, and holidays. Last Christmas some young fathers built a ‘Winter Wonderland’ which 400 children visited.

As Darren Boyle says, ‘The most effective work we can do with young dads is to provide opportunities which ‘prove’ to them, relatively quickly, that progress can be made, either by gaining access to their child or through our development programmes’.

Further information

To find out more about the ‘Da’ – Young Fathers Project, contact Darren Boyle on                0287 134 8728         or  

To read the Western HAZ research, ‘In Whose Best Interests?’, click here.

For a summary of Fatherhood Institute research on young fathers, click here.