Case study: Involving dads in parenting sessions in West Berkshire

15 December 2010

 The West Berkshire Families First (F1) team was established in 2009. F1 Team Manager John Rivers was seconded from the Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Funding came from the then Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) as a part of the national Targeted Mental Health in Schools (TaMHS) project on behalf of West Berkshire Council. (The team was originally established at the beginning of 2006 as part of CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and with funding from a National Service Framework grant but this funding ended in 2009.)

The F1 team runs parenting groups in schools for families that have been referred by other agencies. Parenting sessions are offered as support for parents of children who are, broadly speaking, sad, worried or troubled, rather than for parents who need help with parenting. This has helped to eliminate any stigma that might have been associated with a parenting group based on referrals.

Sessions have included families with:

  • adopted children
  • fostered children
  • children in kinship care
  • children with a physical or learning disability
  • parents with a learning disability
  • parents with mental health difficulties.

The team offers different parenting groups for families with younger and older children:

  • ‘Webster-Stratton Incredible Years’ for parents of primary school age children – sessions include play, praise, rewards, effective limit setting, and consequences
  • ‘Dinosaur School’ – separate small therapeutic groups run in parallel for Incredible Years children
  • ‘STOP’ for parents of teenagers – sessions include raising self-esteem, street drugs, and ADHD
  • FLASH (Families Learning About Self-Harm) for parents of self-harming teenagers.

Parents are also offered individual support, both in their homes and in school settings. Individual support may be a one-off visit or a series of visits over a longer period. It may include:

  • any of the programmes delivered one-to-one and tailored to fit the family
  • joint work with a family school support worker
  • intensive video work in the family’s own home.

Success in engaging fathers

One feature that distinguishes the Families First service from many other parenting services is its high level of success in engaging fathers. For example, in one term, the team ran five parenting groups with 71 parents attending, of whom 32 were men. It is not uncommon for the groups to be nearly 50:50 and the facilitators often manage the situation of mum, stepdad and birth dad all attending the same group. Many single dads attend on their own and several dads have come on their own when their partners could not come.

F1 Team Manager John Rivers says: Part of this success is our expectation from the outset that parenting is a joint venture and that dad is just as important as mum.’

Parenting groups are run at times when both parents can attend including early mornings and late evenings. One father, a plumber, told the service that it was easier for him to start work a little later than to try and get away once he had started work. ‘You can’t just go and leave someone with no water or no toilet’, he pointed out.

Snacks are provided at each session and these are more substantial if parents are attending straight from work. During some sessions small prizes are given out to parents from a lucky dip – the team make sure that there are always prizes that are suitable for men. These ideas have made a real difference to the team’s ability to involve fathers and provide them with the support they need. Two or three dads have experienced such big changes that they are now working as volunteers supporting other parents.

Promoting to other parents

In some sessions a video ‘Big Brother’ diary room is set up so that parents can say how they feel and give feedback about the session. The intention was to use the recordings as part of the evaluation process, but the video diary has been so successful that some of the recordings have been used to engage other parents.

Parents who have taken part in a group have also offered to act as advocates to encourage other parents to attend. Information evenings include mums and dads talking about how they have benefited from attending the sessions.

An example of the kind of successes the project has had is one Families First family where the mum and stepfather were having difficulties with their five children. The stepfather in particular was struggling to cope with an instant family and no previous experience of bringing up children. The mother initially attended a ‘food for life’ course which helped with nutrition and budgeting for the family. On the strength of that course, she and her partner attended a parenting group in relation to their oldest child. They really enjoyed the group and found it very helpful. The stepdad in particular benefited from the support of the group. As a result, they attended another group for a younger child, and gradually developed as individuals, learning how to use a computer and working on their cvs with a view to applying for jobs. The family was proud to be nominated by the team for a learner achievement award.

There have been no difficulties in gaining the support of partner agencies, who have welcomed the work of the Families First team and the positive impact it has had on local parents and children. West Berkshire Council has a parenting commissioner who fully supports the team’s efforts to engage fathers.

Funding will end in March 2011 but the Families First team is training family school support officers to run parenting groups, and the hope is that the drive to engage fathers will therefore be maintained.

To find out more about West Berkshire Families First, email John Rivers or call him on tel: 01635 569864.

Find out more about father-inclusive parenting support in our guide Fathers and Parenting Interventions: What Works?, price £10.

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