Working with young fathers

In Salford and Gateshead, projects have been run to support young fathers and help them deal with the challenges they face. This case study is an example of the work that councils are doing to support young parents.


No official statistics are recorded about the number of young men who became fathers. Estimates suggest one in 10 first-time fathers are under the age of 25. Most become parents in an unplanned way – and that presents challenges. Relationships at that age can be fragile and the father may not live with the child when they are born. It increases the risk of fathers becoming estranged from their children, struggling to play an active role in their lives.

Salford Salford City Council set up a young fathers project over a decade ago. It provides support to around 50 men at any one time, helping them prepare for fatherhood. For those who need it, this can include support with domestic violence and child protection issues.

The challenge

When the drive to tackle teenage pregnancies started, Salford has one of the highest rates in England. It quickly established a strong and effective teenage pregnancy team. But within a few years the staff noticed there was a gap in the services they were provided – there was little support for fathers.

The solution

The decision was taken to establish the Salford Young Fathers Project in 2005. It was initially set up as joint partnership between the teenage pregnancy team and youth service, but is now entirely funded by the youth service.

The service provides one-to-one help to any young man under 25 who is a father or partner of a mother with children.

The support – provided by Young Fathers Worker Tom Cole – covers issues such as coping with being a father, benefits, housing relationships, education and training. A significant proportion of the young fathers that the project works with have children who are involved in the child protection process. The project offers support to them through this, working with them around concerns raised, advocating for them and encouraging their involvement in the whole process.

There is group work too. The project works with a local children’s centre to run mother and father groups. In addition the project offers activities and day trips for young fathers and their children to attend. In the past this has included visits to a local farm, zoos and Manchester United’s football ground.

The impact

Hundreds of fathers have been supported over the past 14 years. At any one time, Tom will have a caseload of around 50 fathers. Referrals come from a variety of sources, including social care, the youth service, antenatal services, midwives and health visitors.

The support provided to Sean is typical of the young men Tom helps. When Sean was referred his son was on a child protection plan because of concerns about Sean’s drinking, anger and domestic abuse towards his partner.

Sean is from a Traveller background, but had been in a relationship with his partner, who is not Traveller, for a number of years. It took time to build up a good relationship, but Sean did start participating well. He went on to have another child and both are now off child protection plans.

Lessons learned

Tom said it requires a lot of work to build a trusting relationship with these young men.

“Most of what I do is one-to-one. The numbers attending the group activities are relatively small. This group of young men don’t necessarily want to communicate and are not always good at meeting new people and joining groups. We get there with some, but not all.

“I will go to their home or meet somewhere local to them. I am always looking at new ways to engage them. I do a lot of ‘walk and talk’ – I find they tend to open up more rather than sitting down across a table.”

How is the approach being sustained?

Tom said with extra funding there is always more that he would like to do. “We only work with young men who are under 25, but I know older fathers also need support. But we have to prioritise what we can do.

“We have been fortunate over the years that funding has been kept. In a lot of places the work with fathers has stopped. We rely on getting funding and grants from different places. I’ve also done a little bit of work for other services, such as probation, that has brought in some money.”

Looking ahead, he believes there may be more scope to involve volunteers. He has one who helps run the mother and father group – but some of the safeguarding issues that crop up mean volunteers cannot be used for everything.

He is also keen to do more work with other services. In the past he has run some training sessions for student midwives and health visitors at local universities. “We see that as important – raising awareness about the needs of young fathers and ensuring we get the referrals through. Doing more of this in the future would be of great benefit.”

Contact

Tom Cole
Young Fathers Worker, Salford City Council
tom.cole@salford.gov.uk

In Gateshead a project has been created that sees workers and young fathers provide support to other young fathers. The work is proving so successful the model is being extended to other areas.

The solution

In 2015 the Young Women’s Outreach Project launched a pilot to support young fathers. The results were encouraging and thanks to funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation the North East Young Dads and Lads (NEYDL) project was launched a year later.

The project employs two case officers who work with young fathers referred into the service. They are supported by a network of volunteers – all of whom are young men who have previously been helped.

Referrals come from a variety of sources, including the local Family Nurse Partnership service, health visitors, early help and local charities.

Chief Executive Kevin Stoodley: “Dads are so often seen as a problem, as feckless, but they are not. Most do want to be involved with their children, but they end up marginalised and that is why they lose contact with their children.

“We provide them with support to build their self-esteem and help them navigate their way through the hurdles they face. It may be child protection hearings or relationship problems. We can also refer them on to services they may need, such as housing support or helping with Universal Credit.” When they are ready, the young fathers are then invited to get involved in group work. There are regular meetings on Wednesdays when local services are invited to work with the young men. This can include everything from parenting classes and sex education to personal development programmes. There is also a dads and toddlers group

“We also do a lot of other work with them. There is a bee-keeping project, we cook, train first aid, BBQ and socialise. One of the most important things is that they get support from their peers.” Fatherhood is an opportunity for young men to evaluate their life choices.

“Many begin to think about the risk-taking or negative behaviours they may have demonstrated in the past – that is where having friends who are in a similar position comes in,” added Kevin.

The impact

The numbers being helped have been increasing year-on-year. Over the past 12 months more than 50 young men have been supported by NEYDL.

An evaluation of the project by De Montfort and Leeds Beckett universities concluded it had been effective at ‘improving the wellbeing, relationships and skills’ of the young men it had worked with. It said the project workers provided a ‘welcoming and non-judgemental’ environment.

One of those who has been helped is Jordan Richardson. He was referred to the service after being accused of being abusive by the mother of his daughter, who was one at the time. He was just 17.

“With help I was able to apply through court for contact with my daughter. I went on to speak for myself in court and now have weekly contact with my daughter again.

“Losing contact with my daughter and falling out with the mother of my child was really painful. Getting involved in the young dads group helped support me through this time by keeping my mind active and open.” He is still involved with the project, sitting on the board of trustees.

Statutory agencies the project has worked with are also full of praise. Kay Flynn, a tutor at Gateshead Learning Skills, said the help the young men receive supports them “fully in their lives and their future aspirations”. She said she was hesitant initially to teach the young men, but they had been a “pleasure to work with”.

Lessons learned

NEYDL has recognised the importance of working with the services they get referrals from to raise awareness about the challenges young fathers face.

This has led to the formation of the Experts by Experience programme, which involves young fathers working with Northumbria University to run specialist workshops, training sessions and conference plenaries for social work students. They have also run awarenessraising workshops with the wider children’s workforce.

Kevin said: “A lot of services are focussed on the needs of young mothers. It means they do not always understand what the fathers need so we see a role in helping raise awareness and tackle some of the stereotypes. Some of the young men we have worked with were keen to get involved with this as they remember how they were treated.”

How is the approach being sustained?

The project is keen to work with more young fathers. It has recently extended its reach to Sunderland and South Tyneside and is planning to launch a peer mentoring programme to train young fathers to help identify and engage with others.

“The people we have reached so far are just a drop in the ocean. We want to help more and reach them at an earlier stage. We have tended to find ourselves getting involved when the wheels are coming off. But we would be even more effective if we were identifying these young fathers sooner.”

Contact

Kevin Stoodley
Chief Executive, North East Young Dads and Lads 
kevinstoodley@ywop.co.uk