Examples of Work with Young Fathers
Talking about work with young fathers work can appear abstract unless we shed light on exactly what it involves. In our research it became clear that there is little information detailing what this work actually is. In this section we present some examples of the kinds of activities organisations do in their work with young fathers.
Young fathers work is wide-ranging often involving a variety of delivery methods including one-to-one, group work, fixed-term programmes, peer support, and more mixed approaches that may combine elements of each.
A number of practitioners use one-to-one approaches with young fathers. This involves building on the skills and strengths of the young men through conversation and dialogue before moving on to other methods of service delivery e.g. informal group sessions and peer support. One-to-one support often involves working with presenting issues identified by the young father as their most pressing concerns. Practical advice relating to housing, benefits, education, employment, and legal issues may be offered initially before leading to more emotional support and fatherhood work. Some services see one-to-one work as the core approach, but also offer other forms of support such as drop-ins and group work (e.g. Mancroft Advice Project, Norwich), but in other cases one-to-one work is the main basis of service delivery (e.g. TPSS in Hull, and Fathers First in the Isle of Wight).
Group work with young fathers can offer the chance for young men to meet other young fathers, work on parenting skills, share experiences, develop confidence, explore fatherhood issues and so on. A number of projects and organisations successfully use group based approaches to deliver support for young fathers but it is important to recognise the limitations of group-based work as well. Some young men are not ready for group work. Others would never enjoy it. Sometimes you can spend a lot of time, money and energy trying to set up and maintain a group, when this could have been better spent providing individual support.
Peer support varies in levels of formality from a casual conversation to more dedicated help where supporters are formally trained to assist their peers. Peer support can have a number of advantages: to the young father offering the support, the young father receiving the help, and the project or organisation itself. However, it is important to remember that formal peer support does have cost implications as supporters require training, support, and supervision themselves. Never think of this as a cheap option!
‘Fixed-term’ programmes are usually developed to deal with very specific aspects of fatherhood and personal development and may be time-related i.e. a pre-determined number of sessions or time period. For example, the South West Arts Project focussing on young fathers used photography to explore young men’s experiences of fatherhood.
Mixed approaches to young fathers work encompassing a variety of delivery methods such as one-to-one, group, peer support etc, are likely to be more effective and reach more young fathers than one approach on its own. In practice, although some projects and agencies delivering services focus on one approach more than others, the majority take up at least some elements of mixed working. Projects that have taken this approach have included the Young Fathers Project in Milton Keynes, M.A.P in Norwich, Base 25 in Wolverhampton, Lewisham Young Fathers Project, B2b+ in Sunderland, and UK dads posse and the ‘Potential Project’ in Oxford.
Mainstreaming and ‘couple work’
There is always a danger that organisations appoint a ‘fatherworker’ and expect that person to do all the work with young fathers. While it is important to have someone on the team who really understands their issues, it is unrealistic (and not effective, either in cost terms or in any other ways) for that person to be totally responsible. Every member of the team needs to seek to engage with the father and any father-figures whenever they meet a young mother – including when the birth parents are not living together. Certainly a ‘fatherworker’ can be brought in for extra support but the aim should be, where possible and safe, for the same worker to engage with the young mother and the father and to work with them as a couple. Building the strengths of the parents to support each other as well as their child will promote family and individual resilience.
This article was written for the Young Fathers Network site developed and maintained (2007-11) by Young People in Focus (YPF – Registered charity No: 800223). YPF has now ceased operating and has given this article to the Fatherhood Institute.
Tags: Young fathers