Case study: Barking and Dagenham’s Fathers Inc project

14 December 2010

What: Fathers Inclusion project

Who: London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Integrated Family Services

Where: Borough of Barking and Dagenham

When: Project launched 2009

When Shaun Childs arrived in his new post as Strategic Lead for Integrated Family Services in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in 2007 he realised that he was one of only three male members of staff out of 120 people, including everyone from senior management to support staff. He noticed that although fathers were using some services such as antenatal classes and nurseries, nothing was being offered to them in a systematic and inclusive way. It was only by chance that the teams at the borough’s 18 Children’s Centres had any contact with fathers.

He decided that things needed to change. He started by looking at what was already happening. The Children’s Centres reviewed the work they were already doing and how they were engaging with fathers in their communities. They carried out a survey to find out what experience staff already had of working with fathers, and also asked fathers what type of services they would access and when.

As a result, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham developed a coordinated and planned approach to engaging fathers in all the services offered to families in the borough – the Fathers Inclusion project. The strategic vision that dads are just as important as mums is shared by the whole organisation – from senior management through to frontline and support staff.

In 2008 a local voluntary organisation won the tender to lead the project on behalf of the borough, with funding of £100,000 per year over two years. The project has clear targets and milestones to enable the borough to audit levels of inclusiveness. Unfortunately, the organisation missed its targets in the first year (although they did come up with the name Fathers Inc) and so the borough is now running the project itself.

What Fathers Inc does

The aim of the Fathers Inc project is to encourage fathers to get involved in all the services on offer in the borough:

  • antenatal classes – provided by midwives
  • health and benefits advice – provided by NHS Barking and Dagenham and voluntary organisations
  • training – provided by the Adult College of Barking and Dagenham
  • employment advice – provided by Job Centre Plus
  • sessions on play and communication for the early years – provided by Children’s Centres.

The project also runs the contract for social care service, providing a centre for Looked After Children to have contact with their fathers.

How Fathers Inc attracts Dads

Many fathers pick up their children from nursery so this was identified early on as a place to target them and to let them know about Fathers Inc services and activities. Information about activities and services is also posted all over the borough – especially in places where fathers go such as job centres, post offices, schools, nurseries, a local football club, a recycling depot, the bus station and the fire station.

Children’s Centres always inform dads as well as mums about what is happening, using text messages for all communication. One Children’s Centre uses community television as a way of publicising events and services. One Centre reports that much of what it does is advertised by word of mouth, with dads who are already involved telling their male friends and family members.

All Children’s Centres are open from 8am to 6pm on weekdays. All nurseries, family support services and play and communication workers offer home visits and make sure that fathers can be there for the visit.

Some activities are specifically targeted at dads and many run on weekends and in the evenings. For example, three Children’s Centres run parenting courses for fathers in the evenings until 9pm. A ‘Stay and Play’ session on Saturday mornings is for dads, grandads and male carers to take part in arts and crafts activities and messy play with their children. A ‘Shining Stars’ session is for fathers and their children with autism spectrum disorders. A Fathers Inc Sports Day in the school holidays is for children from birth to 12 and their fathers, grandfathers and male carers. The project also runs a project called Sports Fit – for more details see below*.

Although the project does not have a specific policy of targeting young fathers, it has identified that two Children’s Centres are seen as most welcoming to young people – Abbey Children’s Centre in Barking and William Bellamy Children’s Centre in Dagenham. These two centres have been developed as ‘hubs’ for teenage parents – so that any young parents can be directed towards those centres for the most appropriate advice, support and services. The John Perry Children’s Centre is Young People Friendly Accredited and provides free condoms and sexual health advice to young people aged between 13 and 25.

Targets and outcomes

The Fathers Inc project is routinely monitored and evaluated against its own targets, which are based on numbers of fathers using services, which services they are using, and staff training. Male data are collected in the same way as female data including information about employment status, religion and smoking behaviour. These data have been routinely collected for more than three years, and the results have enabled Centres to monitor which services are engaging with men, and which services need more work to engage.

Each Children’s Centre has a specific target percentage increase of men using their services. Across the borough between 2007 and 2009 the total number of fathers engaged with increased by nearly 200% – from 200 to 550 individual dads accessing each year.

Individual services are routinely evaluated by dads who complete an evaluation form at the beginning and end of the session. This feedback is then analysed and used when planning new services.

Children’s Centres are also audited in terms of their environments – ensuring that the Centres are welcoming to dads, for example, that baby changing facilities are unisex, that noticeboards and displays are as relevant to fathers as they are to mothers.

Another target is to increase the percentage of male members of staff in the Integrated Family Services. There are now eight or nine male members of staff out of a total of 120, and men are becoming more open to the idea of working with children, although men still tend to be employed in senior management roles rather than as frontline or support workers.

A key outcome for the project has been the way in which the inclusion of fathers on a universal basis has been embedded in the ethos of the service. This vision is shared by everyone, from senior managers to one-year apprentices, and also by partner agencies such as voluntary organisations, private nurseries and job centres. It is also reflected in the individual development plans produced by the Children’s Centres and in the rolling programme of National Professional Qualification in Integrated Centre Leadership (NPQICL) training for Children’s Centre managers.

Next steps

Although there have been considerable successes in many of the Children’s Centres, for the next year of the project Shaun is working up an action plan which will focus on:

  • engaging ‘harder to reach’ fathers, or fathers who only attend once, not just the ‘serial attenders’ (who will still be welcomed of course)
  • targeting specific population groups – each part of the borough has its own particular ethnic mix and this needs to be reflected in services
  • embedding inclusion of fathers in all training so that it becomes a mandatory part of induction, as child protection is
  • continuing to increase the percentage of male members of staff at all levels.

To find out more about the Fathers Inc project contact:

Shaun Childs, tel: 020 8724 1841, email:

*Sports Fit

One of the most successful initiatives has been the Sports Fit service at the John Perry Children’s Centre in Dagenham. The initiative was launched with a fun day in 2008, after consulting with local fathers to find out what service they would like and what times and days would suit them best.

Although Sports Fit was originally targeted at fathers/male carers, it is now open to all families. Its name and the fact that it is run in partnership with Dagenham and Redbridge Football Club (D&RFC) has meant that Sports Fit has been very popular with families. The Football Club has been very supportive and the Club’s Director often comes to the centre to get involved. The Sports Fit programme is promoted in the Club’s programme and display posters.

Sports Fit sessions run at the Centre on a Saturday morning when ‘The Daggers’ play at home (usually twice a month). Dads and their children enjoy a sports sesson followed by a healthy lunch and then a ‘walking bus’ walks to the football ground in Dagenham where families can have reduced priced or sometimes free tickets to home games.

During the Sports Fit session staff provide support and advice to families (some of whom are on family support caseloads). This includes signposting to jobs, training and benefits, a Citizens Advice Bureau and parenting programmes. A family support worker is available at each session.

Sports Fit is funded through the Children’s Centre’s budget and costs and sustainability are reviewed every term. To keep costs down, there is a £2 charge for each family for each session and male volunteers have been recruited to help with coaching (two are trained FA1 coaches) and to plan and prepare food. New dad volunteers are always encouraged. Staff work at the sessions on a rota (senior managers are included in the rota) and are not paid overtime but can take the hours they have worked in lieu.Volunteers and staff attend a comprehensive package of mandatory training on working holistically within the Centre’s ‘Think Family’ framework.

The Sports Fit project has been very popular in what is one of the most ‘difficult’ wards in the borough, with a lack of community cohesion posing specific challenges. The project has brought people together regardless of background and has supported D&RFC initiatives such as ‘Fans for the future’ and ‘Red card against racism’. Support for Sports Fit contributed to the Club’s success in winning the LBBD Community and Enterprise Award in 2009.

Since the launch of the initiative in 2008 the Centre’s reach has increased by 90% from 70 to 130 fathers/male carers.

A seven-year-old boy who has been placed in the care of his grandmother has been coming to Sports Fit with his uncle since it began. At first he was very timid and shy and would get upset if he didn’t play well. He is now a completely different little boy – very confident and happy and eager to play. He can also reason if he hasn’t played well. His uncle has also grown in confidence. He has become a volunteer at the sessions and has successfully completed his FA1 coaching certificate.