Being Strategic

22 July 2013

Here we look at some of the wider issues that projects and agencies told us were important to delivering services that meet the needs of young fathers.  Adopting a carefully planned approach is crucial.  This is especially true if we are to move on from isolated, bolt-on ‘father work’ to ‘father inclusive work’ where working with young dads becomes ‘everyone’s business’ and part of mainstream operations.  Key issues that emerged were: consulting young fathers, working with other organisations to deliver a multi-agency approach and evaluating the work.

Consulting young fathers: getting services right

Consultation with young fathers (perhaps through interviews, discussion groups or participation) is an essential way to help build understanding of an issue and identify opportunities for further work.  A Young Father’s Project (Mordaunt, 2005) found that many young fathers tend not to respond readily to services that impose a particular content and/or style of delivery.  Instead, projects need to ‘identify the needs of their clients at the outset, and then regularly review them to improve and develop the service’.  This can be a bit of  a chicken-and-egg situation here:  impose a style and content delivery first and then consult, or consult first and then develop services?  Probably it’s a bit of both.

Our research tells us that either of these two ways of working can be effective.  The most important factor to increase the chance of successful outcomes is that consultation does take place, and that practitioners work hard to consider how best they can meet the individual needs of young men.  Here are some examples:

  • YMCA in Luton ran a large-scale consultation event with African-Caribbean young fathers to discover what support African-Caribbean young fathers needed before, during, and after pregnancy in order to shape the focus of future work. YMCA used a number of methods (including questionnaires and interviews) to find out about young fathers’ experiences, including feelings about the medical aspects of pregnancy, the attitudes of the respective families (both fathers’ and mothers’), and the levels of contact the fathers had with their children.
  • Merton Teenage Pregnancy Partnership used findings from their consultation to create a drama project designed to stimulate further discussion about improving support for young fathers – Merton Teenage Pregnancy Partnership Report.

Working with other organisations 

Building a network of positive contacts and relationships with other professionals is a key factor in the success of work with young fathers.  These relationships can smooth the way to their accessing other services.  Some agencies are sceptical about the benefits of working with young fathers, or conceptualise the work in solely negative ways (focusing only on domestic violence, for example).  Networking can help to challenge such perceptions and stereotypes.

Evaluating the work

All of the projects and agencies we spoke to said they regularly reflected upon their work in some way.  Some projects such as Base 25, DVD, M.A.P and Fathers Plus had commissioned more formal independent evaluations. What was clear was that many projects and services do not differentiate explicitly between monitoring and evaluation.  These are important distinctions.  As more father inclusive work develops, it will be crucial for projects and agencies to carry out such work in order to develop a strong evidence base to enable the work to move beyond ‘promising’ to ‘what works’.

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.