Developing young father-inclusive services raises challenges for organisations. Staff may lack expertise in working with young people, or lack skills/confidence in working with males. Pioneering agencies emphasised the need for a ‘whole-organisation’ approach and caution against marginalising a specialist (usually male) ‘fatherworker’.
The Young Fathers Project (Mordaunt, 2005) identified the characteristics of successful staff working with young fathers:
Skills, gender and ethnicity
Overall, the projects and organisations interviewed overwhelmingly agreed that the skills and attitudes of the worker are more important then their gender. Being welcoming and ‘there for them’, approachable, knowledgeable, sensitive, reliable and positive about fatherhood were said to be qualities that were more important than whether the worker is male or female.
Nevertheless, some projects also said that a male presence is desirable in support services intended for young parents and that in some cases this meant creating a dedicated young fathers worker post (for a male worker). For example, Fathers Plus in Newcastle and the Upfront Team in Bradford felt it is important for male workers to be more visible in services for young parents. In this way, projects can begin to confront perceptions that such services are primarily for women, and services for parents are not for men. Moreover, Lewisham Young Fathers Project and the Health Initiatives Team at Education Leeds told us that male fathers’ workers can offer significant influence in helping to challenge ingrained (negative) perspectives and attitudes of other professionals about young fathers. It is worth noting, however, that a male worker does not need only to work with the males – any more than a female worker need only work with the females. A positive presence in their lives of a worker of the opposite sex can be valuable.
We also asked projects and organisations about the role of workers’ ethnicity, especially given that black young fathers in particular are often seen in a very negative light in the wider society. Responses were along similar lines to those relating to gender: again we were told that it was a worker’s skills and attitudes that were more important than ethnicity per se. However some projects specifically reported that the ethnicity of staff was important in reaching, engaging and providing appropriate services for Black and Asian young fathers (e.g. Upfront and West Bowling Sure Start in Bradford and boys2MEN in London).
The Top Dads Project in Birmingham (Mordaunt, 2005) attributed its success in engaging African- Caribbean young men as largely due to the personal credibility of its black male project leader. Black staff in predominantly ‘white’ organisations often report being marginalised and argue that it is essential that white colleagues also play an active part in providing ethnically sensitive, anti-discriminatory services as part of a ‘whole-organisation approach’.
Several organisations, including the Fatherhood Institute, offer training that develops attitudes, knowledge and skills in work with Young Fathers. Some provide ‘open’ courses nationally or regionally. Most of these providers will also provide tailor-made training for individual agencies or teams.
Practitioners commonly reported being the only dedicated young fathers worker in their organisation and that this could be an isolating experience. Some agencies/regions develop networks to redress this problem and promote information and skills sharing.
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